Despite its reputation, the viola plays a crucial role in any orchestral or chamber ensemble
THE VIOLA probably has more jokes made about it than any other instrument, particularly in the Western classical music world. Yet it's a wonderful instrument that makes a unique and beautiful sound. It also plays an indispensable part in any ensemble (orchestral or chamber) in which it's involved. In the 20th century the viola has acquired an impressive repertoire of solo pieces and concertos, many of which owe their existence to the trail-blazing British viola-player Lionel Tertis (1876-1975).
Violas can come in several sizes, and Lionel Tertis had an especially large one made for him so that he could make the sound on the instrument he wanted.
Some famous composers have been viola-players: Mozart, for instance, in the 18th century, and the German composer Paul Hindemith in the 20th century.
In the 19th century the most famous violin-player of his day, Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840) acquired a viola and asked the French composer Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) to write a concerto for him to play on it. The result was Harold in Italy.
Clare Finnimore of Britten Chamber Orchestra explains some of the pleasures of playing the viola.