Classical Music For Dummies, 3rd Edition
Book image
Explore Book Buy On Amazon

What’s the difference between a violin and a viola in classical music? Size — the violas slightly bigger. But from the audience, seeing this subtle size difference isn’t easy. The sound of the viola is distinctive, however. Compared to the violin, the sound is breathier and throatier. The high notes on a viola sound less effortless than on a violin, and the low notes are powerful and rich.

The viola is the most difficult string instrument to play. Because the instrument is bigger than a violin, the player’s fingers must stretch farther between notes. The contortions that a violist must go through to play are unbelievable; the game of Twister is intensified.

Violists spend the vast majority of their time in the orchestra playing accompaniments to the violins’ melodies. As a result, concertos for the viola are rare, and violists who can play them are even rarer. (Joke! It’s a joke!) Here are some of them:

  • Paul Hindemith: Trauermusik (Music of Mourning) for solo viola and strings

  • Georg Philipp Telemann: Viola Concerto in G major

  • William Walton: Viola Concerto

Here are some very nice viola sonatas:

  • Hindemith: Sonata for Viola and Piano, opus 25, no. 1

  • Johann Hummel: Sonata in E-flat major, opus 5, no. 3

Finally, you can hear the gorgeous, throaty quality of this instrument used to great advantage in the following orchestral works, which feature extended, beautiful viola solos:

  • Hector Berlioz: Harold in Italy

  • Richard Strauss: Don Quixote

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

David Pogue is a musician, author, and journalist for both print and television. He's authored or coauthored more than 120 books, including six Dummies books. He has been a conductor on Broadway, worked as a tech columnist at the New York Times, and is a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. Scott Speck has conducted hundreds of ballet performances throughout the United States and Europe. He is music director of the Joffrey Ballet, artistic director of the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra, and former conductor of the San Francisco Ballet.

This article can be found in the category: