2018 update

1)      How long have you played with Tafelmusik? Can you tell us a little about your musical career?
I have played with Tafelmusik for 30 years. Before that I played modern violin for 9 years in the Queensland Symphony Orchestra in Brisbane, Australia. I grew up on a hilltop in central New York State, the eldest of 4 children of two parasitologists. We lived not too far from Ithaca NY and Cornell University.
2)      This event is going to feature the Viola D’amore – probably not an instrument that most people know. Can you tell us a little about what makes it distinctive? What does it look like?

The viola d'amore looks a little like a viola da gamba and a little like a violin. There are many sizes and features. Very often, but not always, violas d'amore have flat backs, like violas da gamba. And like gambas, very often, but not always, the belly and back are flush with the ribs. But there are exceptions to this rule even from very celebrated makers, like Gagliano. In the 17th century they were said to have 5 strings, but most of the early repertoire for the instrument is for an instrument with 6 playing strings. The lowest 7th string was in place by the end of the 18th century.
Most often nowadays the defining feature of the viola d'amore is held to be the 2nd set of wire resonating strings, that run under the fingerboard and serve to colour and prolong the sound of the gut playing strings. (This prolongation is reflected in the Aria with obligato viola d'amore from Bach's BWV 36c.) However, as I became acquainted with the history of the instrument, I learned that there was a second type of viola d'amore, with brass or steel playing strings, and no sympathetic strings. The wire strung form was associated with concert music, esp. oratorios and operas in Protestant areas, the sympathetic strung one with chamber music in Catholic areas.
3)      Could you describe its sound to us?

Both forms of the instrument were described as having a silvery sound.

4)      And why is it called the Viola D’amore?!
The principle of resonance tells us that one sound system can be set into vibration by another sound system, if they are in tune with one another, to a fraction of a percent. This seems to have struck the 18th century mind as a metaphor for romantic love! Viola of love, because so seldom are two things, even strings, so well in tune? Hence the blindfolded carved cupid heads on some vdas. Sometimes you see people claim that the viola d'amore is a European attempt to make a viola of the moors, an euro/arabic instrument. Hence the flame shaped sound holes, as opposed to violin type f holes, that you will see on historical violas d'amore.
Other instruments that have physical resonators are the marimba, the vibraphone, the hardanger fiddle, the hurdy-gurdy, the sarangi, in fact, there are many examples. Sympathetic resonators for harmonicas, for example, were patented 7 times since 1820. Some piano manufacturers added sympathetic strings to their upright pianos (I saw such a piano in the History Museum in Ithaca NY.)
5)      Can you tell us a little about the music featuring the viola d'amore?
The principle hurdle the player of the viola d'amore has to overcome is its rarity. The same rarity is also the source of its expressive power and historical survival, (in my opinion.) 

The rarity of the instrument also means it has little to no support from the businesses string players usually rely on: you cannot buy a viola d'amore from your local violin dealers, the sheet music is not in music shops or in public libraries, and the viola d'amore is no where taught in Universities, although it used to be. Nowadays I have to request even Early Music dealers to stock viola d'amore strings. These reasons are why people understandably think the viola d'amore is extinct.

If somehow you find a viola d'amore, it is hard to judge if it is set up well for playability. It is curious that even quite able players are not conversant in the details of the set up of a bowed stringed instrument.

Because I have volunteered to help people with these hurdles for 25 years I get told of discoveries in repertoire, which is how I heard about Göttweig Archive Manuscript 4806, the solos in Zaragoza, and other finds.
The very same rarity of the viola d'amore, in my opinion, gives the viola d'amore an expressive advantat which composers turned to for the very most expressive moments in music. From Bach's two arias in the John Passion in which the believer considers the meaning of the scourging of Christ, to Christ being crushed to the ground by the weight of the cross (Telemann's 1715 Passion) to his being crowned with thorns (Stölzel's 1725 Passion), the the soul of Katya in Janacek's opera, to the disappearance of a young daughter into the twilight zone in an episode called Little Girl Lost, (1962?) many many composers found in the viola d'amore an instrument with the expressive force they needed for the most intense kinds of musical emotion. It is especially interesting to me that in Little Girl Lost, Bernard Hermann not only wrote an entire tv episode for the viola d'amore, (accompanied by 3 alto flutes, 4 harps, and percussion).