Wire Playing strings

Wire strings

Here is a sound sample, Ariosti Sonata 20 in g, allegro, played on wire strings. Here is an Ariosti Tempo di Gavotta. You can compare these movements played on the same instrument with gut strings, on the Bis Naxos listening site, play track 23: Bis

by Kai Koepp, The German situation of the Viola d'amore in the 17th and 18th centuries 
This page is a summary by Kai Koepp of his research into the history of the viola d'amore with wire rather than gut playing strings. Please see Kai's articles in The Strad, May 2001, Love without Sympathy, and in the Bach Jahrbuch 2000
The viola d'amore without sympathetic strings existed long before the generally known type came about, and it was used well into the 18th-century. Both types were used side by side. The older type dominated in Northern and Central Germany, while in the catholic South Germany the relationship was reversed.
It seems that the use of sympathetic strings depended on the financial and socio-cultural situation of the individual player. The viola d'amore in Northern and Central Germany was generally entrusted with concert-like parts played before a large audience (e.g. solo concertos, and obligato arias) while the South German repertoire consisted mainly of chamber music. With the increase of viola d'amore concerts in South Germany, represented by Stamitz and Esser, the sympathetic strings were abandoned from about 1780.
Even more important than the question about the addition of sympathetic strings is the material of the playing strings used in written sources. Up to the middle of the 18th-century, the characteristic sound of the viola d'amore was connected with the sound of bowed metal (harpsichord) strings - regardless of the presence or absence of sympathetic strings.
It might be useful to point out that modern "steel strings" are not the correct material because they have entirely different characteristics from historicalharpsichord strings made of brass or iron. The modern chrome steel string optimizes flexibility and strength whereas the historical wire strings are stiff and rather breakable.
Sources for the viola d'amore without sympathetic strings (a selection):

  • 1649 - J Ritter - 5 strings used in scordatura pieces
  • 1679 - J Evelyn - 5 wyre strings, tuned lyra way, sounding 'sweet and surprising'
  • 1687 - D Speer - strings of steel and silver, used in scordatura pieces
  • 1703 - S de Brossard - 6 strings of wire like on the harpsichord, pleasant silvery tone.
  • 1706 - M H Fuhrmann - wire strings, played with scordatura, "sounds most lovely in the quiet of the evening"
  • 1706 - F F Niedt - steel strings, played with scordatura tuning
  • 1713 - J Mattheson - 5 strings: 4 wire, one gut, tuning c major/minor silveryand pleasant sound
  • 1724 - J C Pepusch - 'a kind of Treble viol, strung with Wire, so calledbecause of its soft and sweet tone"
  • 1731 - J J Walther [quotes Mattheson]
  • 1732 - JCFB Majer - six strings: 5 wire, one gut, 2 sizes, 16 differenttunings; short note in small letters: 6 sympathetic strings, tuned to thesame chord, only for resonance
  • 1738 - J Eisel quotes Mattheson, but: new type invented by Italians, 7 strings tuned bb'f'c'gdBbF
  • 1752 - J Mattheson - no doubling of strings, no doubling of sound "wegen deslieblichen Lauts der gestrichenen Staehlernen Saiten auf der Viole d'Amour,hat sie den lieben Namen bekommen"
  • 1756 - J Adlung - 'mehrentheils' (mostly) wire strings: several wire, 1 gut
  • 1789 - JA Weber - 6 strings without sympathetic strings (eg Ritter Esser,1780)because "useless addition"
  • 1801 - J J Klein - 6 or 7 strigs without sympathetic strings, because"relation with the stopped string is false"
  • 1802 - H C Koch - 6 or 7 strings without the "superfluous and needless" metalstrings
  • 1819 - H I Vetter - 7 strings without sympathetic strings (eg Stamitz) because "more disadvantages than advantages"

A Viola D' Amore without sympathetic strings has:

  • 5 to 7 strings (c.f. Eisel, 1738)
  • A viol type corpus in treble of alto size (c.f. Mayer 1732) withcomparatively low ribs
  • Construction features which originate from the violin as well as the violfamily and/or attributes which refer to the name "d'amore" like flamesound holes, blindfolded cupid
  • A relatively narrow neck, compared to the viol type with a rounded crosssection which does not have a channel for the sympathetic strings
  • A reliable date of origin which shows the instrument unlikely to have been used as a viola da gamba
  • Details of construction which accommodate the use of soft and rather breakable historic wire strings, like pins hold the loops of the strings inthe way of a harpsichord string attachment.