IT: viola – FR: alto – GER: Bratsche


Much of the information regarding the violin also applies to the other stringed instruments. The viola is larger than the violin, has a darker tone quality, and has a lower range. Parts are written in alto clef in the low and middle ranges and in the treble clef in the upper range. It is technically capable of anything the violin can do. The strings are numbered from highest to lowest, I-IV. The tone quality of the low C string (IV) is warmer and has more depth than the G string (lII). The D string (II) becomes somewhat brighter, and the A string (I) has good penetrating capabilities.

Tuning and Range

FIGURE 2.14 Viola tuning                                     Viola range


The viola sounds as written.

Technical Abilities

Although the viola is capable of executing in a lower range almost any type of passage performed on the violin, orchestral parts have not traditionally been as demanding. The viola is often relegated to static inner voices, is frequently doubled, and plays the role of the alto voice in choral music. However, many composers have taken advantage of the expressive quality of the viola as a solo voice. Berlioz was among the first to make extensive independent use of the viola in the orchestra in his Symphonie Fantastique in 1830. In 1834 he wrote a symphony with solo viola entitled Harold in Italy.

Musical Example

FIGURE 2.15 Viola line: Berlioz, Harold in Italy, measures 38-45

Scroll to Top