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Development of the Viola

The modern viola developed along the same historical lines as the violin. Between 1550 and 1700, luthiers would make both "tenor" and "alto" violas. The tenor and alto instruments were usually tuned like the modern instrument (C-G-D-A) but the tenor instruments were longer. A tenor viola made by Stradivari measures almost 18.5 inches, and one made by Amati measures 18 inches. The tenor instruments fell out of use after 1700, probably because they were too large for most people to play comfortably. The alto viola became known as "the viola," although in French it retains the name "alto."

The "full-size" modern viola is normally between 15" and 17" in length. Today's viola makers continue to experiment with design - particularly with body shape - to increase the instruments' resonance and tone quality.

Early string ensemble music often contained parts written for one violin, two violas of different sizes, and bass violin (violoncello). By 1700 composers were commonly writing parts for 2 violins, 1 viola, and 1 cello.



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