History Of The Viola

We’ll hear a thousand years of rich, deep music and history. The history of the viola.

Garth Knox on the Medieval Fiddle (Dániel Vass / ECM Records)

Garth Knox on the Medieval Fiddle (Dániel Vass / ECM Records)

In the world of stringed instruments, the humble viola takes some hard knocks.  It’s not the virtuoso’s violin.  Not the soulful cello.  It’s in between.  A little gawky.  Earthy.  Hard to get just right.  “What is the range of a viola?” goes the old joke.  “As far as you can kick it.”

But the viola hangs in.  The “middle voice.”  It was there in medieval days, with praise and visions.  Dance.  And it’s there now, with a new sound.

This hour, On Point:  A thousand years of the earthy “middle voice” – the viola.

-Tom Ashbrook


Garth Knox, a prize-winning violist and composer. His new collection of works is: “Salterello.”

From Tom’s Reading List

Guardian “The viola is emerging from the shadows: Garth Knox’s utterly original recital combines its dusky tones in new music – by Kaija Saariaho (with electronics) and Knox himself (a flash of moody Piazzolla) – with music for the larger viola d’amore and medieval fiddle.”

NPR “A lot of babies were thrown out with the bath water,” he says in an interview with All Things Considered host Robert Siegel. “And I thought the viola d’amore was a particularly big baby that had been thrown away by mistake. I and others are trying to bring it back and show just how beautiful it can be.”

VIOLA JOKES: How do you keep your violin from getting stolen? Put it in a viola case. Check out more viola jokes here and post your favorites in the comments section here.


Viola Spaces no 6 – Harmonic horizon – Garth Knox


Kaija Saariaho’s “Vent nocturne,” for viola and electronics – performed by Garth Knox


Salterello #1 (14th Century Traditional)
Viola Spaces Movement #4, “Rapid Repeat” (2009 Garth Knox)
Ave, generosa (12th Century Hildegard von Bingen)
Pipe, Harp, and Fiddle (Traditional)
Music for a While (1692 Henry Purcell)
Concerto for viola d’amore in D minor, #1 (18th Century Antonio Vivaldi)
Black Brittany (early 19th Century Traditional)
Flow my Tears (16th Cenutry John Dowland)
Viola Spaces, #8 “Up, Down, Sideways, Round” (2009 Garth Knox)
Vent nocturne #2 (2007 Kaija Saariaho)
Fuga libre (2009 Garth Knox)
Salterello #2 (14th Century Traditional)

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
Nov 27, 2015
Josh Baldonado, an administrative assistant at Brown & Brown Insurance, works at a treadmill desk in the firms offices in Carmel, Ind., Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013. (AP)

The end of sitting at work. A new call to get up off our chairs. To stand and move! We’ll look at how that works.

Nov 27, 2015
The punk rock band Sleater-Kinney (from L: Janet Weiss, Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker) (Courtesy the Band)

Feminist punk-rockers, the band Sleater-Kinney, is with us. Reunited. Hotter than ever.

Nov 26, 2015
Jewel performs in the On Point Studio on Tuesday, September 22, 2015. (Liz Gillis / WBUR)

Singer-songwriter Jewel asked “who will save your soul”? Now she’s talking about saving her own. We’ll talk to Jewel.

Nov 26, 2015
This photo taken July 31, 2012 shows a "tiny" house April Anson built in Portland, Ore. For the past couple of months, 33-year-old Anson and her friends have been planning, measuring, sawing and hammering their way toward completion of what might look like a child’s playhouse. (AP)

Tiny houses, micro-apartments. They’re hot. Americans are downsizing.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Fresh Ideas For Your Thanksgiving: Recipes
Wednesday, Nov 25, 2015

Did our Thanksgiving 2016 episode make you hungry? Good news — we’ve got recipes right here.

More »
Karl Rove Still Won’t Get Involved In The 2016 G.O.P. Primary
Tuesday, Nov 24, 2015

Karl Rove may say he’s not endorsing or getting involved in the 2016 G.O.P. presidential primary, but that won’t stop from offering advice on how to beat Republican front runner Donald Trump.

More »
Roger Cohen And Barry Posen On ISIS
Monday, Nov 23, 2015

A brief, but illustrative exchange between Barry Posen and Roger Cohen during our conversation on ISIS today.

More »