Classical Music For Dummies, 3rd Edition
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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

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About David Pogue David Pogue is a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians and has performed magic at parties, special events, on TV, and even over the radio for 25 years. He created and taught the beginning magic programs at the New School for Social Research and the Learning Annex. He has been known to mesmerize audiences with his magic tricks while on tour promoting his many bestselling books, including Macs?? For Dummies??, 5th Edition, Opera For Dummies??, and Classical Music For Dummies??. Contributor Mark Levy, magic consultant, has levitated and read spectators' minds for nearly 30 years. His writings have appeared in some of magic's most revered literary sources, including Richard Kaufman's CardMagic, Apocalypse magazine, and Magic.

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. Evelyn Cisneros danced for the San Francisco Ballet for 23 years and is the Artistic Director of the National Dance Institute of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

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