Guest violist Marcus Thompson caused a sensation in Saturday’s Baroque concert by the Chamber Orchestra of Albuquerque when he played an obsolete instrument called the viola d’amore. His performance of a concerto for the beautiful, old instrument written by Antonio Vivaldi held an audience of several hundred in rapt attention as he produced intense, piercing tones of a mesmerizing sweet quality.
Marcus Thompson's first encounter with the viola d'amore was when he heard a performance of the Hindemith Sonata for Viola d'Amore and Piano played by Walter Trampler and James Levine. The sound of the viola d'amore, even in a modern piece, was so enchanting and beguiling that he immediately fell in love with it. Since then, he has heard Walter Trampler play Vivaldi Concertos and other early works and learned about Baroque performance practice: inflected bowing, limited vibrato, and the use of harmonics. Thompson believes that playing the viola d'amore has enhanced his viola playing. It has taught him how to widen the color palette and make clearer distinctions in musical expression.
Marcus Thompson plays a viola d'amore that was made in Bohemia (known today as the Czech Republic) in the mid 1700's. It has fourteen strings, seven bowed, and seven sympathetic strung under the bridge. As a member of the viol family it's body is more simply shaped than those of the violin family; its top and back plates do not overhang the ribs, and it has a flat back. On its face, instead of "F" or "S" openings, there are symbols in the shape of "flaming swords." In place of a scroll there is the blindfolded head of Cupid with tiny wings folded behind it. These latter design features of the instrument are an illustration of the misprision and/or 'play on words' that have characterized the instrument since its invention. It is both the "viola of love" (viola d'amore, think "love is blind") because of its silvery, sympathetic overtones, and the viola of the Moors (viola da More), a black-skinned Islamic society that settled much of southern Europe, Spain and North Africa and introduced the concepts and designs for all our stringed instruments. The 'flaming sword' is the Arabic symbol for Allah.
Listen to two excerpts from Rameau's Troisieme Concert, performed at the Harvard Musical Association, with Peter Sykes, Harpsichord, Marcus Thompson, Viola d'Amore, and Laura Jeppesen, Viola da Gamba.
recording courtesy of Lee Eiseman
* recorded by Marcus Thompson
^ otherwise available on record or CD
|Hindemith||Kammermusik # 6,
Op. 46 #1^
3 vcl, 2 db
|Loeffler||La Mort de Tintagiles^||188.8.131.52. 4.2.+2 cornets 3.1., timp, perc, hrp, strings||24'||G. Schirmer|
|Martin, F.||Sonata da Chiesa*||Strings||15'||Universal|
|Telemann||Concerto in E minor for Viola d'Amore, Oboe d'Amore and Flute^||Strings, harpsichord||15'||Peters (5884)|
|Vivaldi||Concerto in D minor
F, I # 2^