Acoustic Instrument Spotlight: Fall in love with Cupid’s viola d’amore.
A rare and beautiful violin, the viola d’amore has been specifically used by many historic classical composers including Bach, Vivaldi, and Puccini (for Madama Butterfly.) This instrument is often used to accurately portray music written for it during the Baroque period (a European period of art an music starting in the 1600s.) Because of this, the viola d’amore has its share of fanatics. As it’s difficult to play, the viola d’amore can be an instrument that well trained musicians use to add to their already robust repertoire.
Traditionally, the viola d’amore has 6 or 7 playable strings on the fretboard and 6 or more sympathetic strings that vibrate underneath as the instrument is bowed. The headstock is sometimes adorned with the blindfolded head of Cupid to represent the blind nature of love. This specific adornment can be rare and the instrument may have different adornments instead.
Rather than traditional “f” shaped sound holes, the viola d’amore has sound holes shaped like a flaming sword. It is suggested that the original name for this instrument was the “viola of the moors” (as some Middle Eastern instruments of the time had sympathetic strings.) Some think the sound holes represent the flame of love, while others think they represent the flaming sword of Islam.
With 6 strings, this instrument has a larger range of notes than a traditional violin. Though it has a larger range, the viola’s top string may have been rarely used as the whole instrument would have been re-tuned specifically to fit the piece it was playing for. As it is a Baroque instrument, modern versions of this viola have an altered construction to support the tension of modern steel wound strings.
Cheaper violas start around $500, mid range at $1300, and more expensive violas are priced at $3000. It can be hard to find high quality violas d’amore. That said, there are modern violin makers who do make this instrument in America, Canada, Italy, and Spain
If you’re curious, this is what it sounds like alone:
And this is a great video that explains more about the instrument: