Viola pomposa

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The viola pomposa is a string instrument in the tenor register. The variety of names given to the instrument developed in the 18th century is easy to confuse. They may be different but similar instruments. Depending on the language area, the terms violino pomposo, violoncello piccolo , viola, cello da spalla, viola di collo, bassoon violin or bassetto can be found .

Construction and style of play

The approximately 60 cm long instrument is played in arm position or on a strap hanging around the neck. It was mainly used in the baroque period. The use of the strap suggests its use as a bass instrument in processions. In contrast to the conventional viola ( viola ) or violoncello, it has five strings . The strings are tuned to fifths , namely in the notes C, G, d, a and e '.

According to contemporary reports, Johann Sebastian Bach ordered tenor violins from the instrument maker Johann Christian Hoffmann from Leipzig , which should have the structural and tonal properties of a violoncello. Bach wrote works for this instrument that are mostly performed with the violoncello today, but at that time they could also be performed by experienced violinists on the viola pomposa due to the lack of suitable musicians.


The violinist and composer Franz Benda (1709–1786) wrote: “This instrument is tuned like a violoncello, but has a height more, is slightly larger than a viola, and is fastened with a strap so that it is in front of it the chest and arms. The blessed Kapellmeister Herr Bach in Leipzig invented it. "

Johann Nikolaus Forkel (1748–1818) speculated in his musical almanac for 1782 that the viola pomposa is the cello piccolo used by Bach in various works .

Bach's contemporary Johann Gottfried Walther wrote in his Musicalisches Lexicon in 1732 under the heading cello:

“Violoncello, the Bassa di Viola and Viola di Spala are small bass violins, compared to the larger ones with 5 and probably also with 6 strings, on which one can do all kinds of quick things, variations and manners easier than on the big machines; In particular, the viola di spala or shoulder viole has a great effect in the accompaniment, because it can cut through strongly and express the tones purely. It is attached to the ribbon on the chest and, as it were, thrown onto the right shoulder, so it has nothing to stop or prevent its resonance in the least ... "

In 1914 Riccardo Zandonai asked for a viola pomposa in the incidental music for his opera Francesca da Rimini .

Violoncello da spalla compared to an early baroque violin

Today the viola pomposa (as well as the equally tuned viola da spalla ) is seldom played. In 2003, the Belgian baroque violinist and conductor Sigiswald Kuijken had the violin maker and musician Dmitry Badiarov develop a replica of the so-called cello da spalla, which he and numerous other musicians, after several improvements, successfully use in various Bach works, in solo suites for cello and numerous cello concerts .


Individual evidence

  1. ^ Johann Gottlieb Walther: Musicalisches Lexicon or Musicalische Bibliothec , p. 637 at Wikimedia Commons
  2. ^ Italian modernism. Magic sound à la Richard Strauss for a material from Dante's hell: Riccardo Zandonai's “Francesca da Rimini”. In: Opernwelt from June 2016, p. 28.
  3. Erich Valentin : Handbuch der Musikinstrumentenkunde. Gustav Bosse, Regensburg 1954, p. 426.
  4. The cello da spalla - a bass for violinists. Badiarov Violins , accessed January 4, 2019 .