Play Already have an account? Log in

Viola da Gamba

The Timeless Appeal of the Viola da Gamba and Classical Music

The Viola da Gamba is the gentler cousin of the violin. Classical music played on the Viola da Gamba is low and soft, yet rich and inspiring at the same time. The soft, gentle tones of viol music are exactly what is needed for relaxing, working and even sleeping.

Here are some interesting facts about the Viola da Gamba.

Viola da Gamba, also known as the viol, or gamba, is a 6 or 7 string cousin to the violin, viola, cello and double bass family. It is considered a baroque instrument and features several sizes, from soprano, pardessus, treble, to tenor, bass and violone.

Comparisons to Violins etc.

“Viola da Gamba” literally means “viola for the legs” in Italian, as it is held between the legs, or on the lap (for smaller sizes) when played. It appeared in the mid to late 15th century in Spain.

The sound of the Viols family is quieter than that of the violin family. Since viols have gut strings, they are softer than violin family, which uses steel wound and steel core strings.

The viol family also have frets, whereas the violin family does not. Viol instruments are tuned somewhat in 4ths (like a guitar) and violin family instruments are tuned in 5ths.

All viol instruments are played upright, whereas the viola & viola are off the shoulder. Also, viol bows are held underhand, and violin family instruments are bowed overhand.

Pitch in baroque instruments like the viol is usually lower by a half step (sometimes higher) than the standard A440 pitch of the modern violin family.

Early Popularity

The Viola da Gamba emerged during the mid 15th century Renaissance and Baroque eras. This instrument became popular all throughout Europe, including England, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy.

Interestingly, the gamba family was the instrument of choice by the noble and royal classes, whereas the violin family was reserved for commoners. The viola da gamba also appears in several of Shakespeare’s plays, including Twelfth Night.

King Henry VIII

Did you know King Henry VIII was highly respected as a viol musician and composer? His manuscript King Henry VIII Songbook, was compiled in 1518 and features 20 songs and 13 instrumental pieces, ascribed to “The Kynge H”.

Composer Scandal

The Forqueray family was famous for their incredible virtuosic compositions and they were known as exceptional instrumentalists on the viol. Antoine Forqueray’s (the father) exceptional talents as a player led to his performing before Louis XVI at the age of 10. His relationship with his equally famous son Jean Baptiste, was difficult. He had his son imprisoned in 1719 and then exiled in 1725.

Disappearance and Reemergence

By the end of the 18th century, the viol and its early music repertoire went out of fashion, and was overtaken by the modern violin family’s use in classical and romantic era orchestras. The popularity of the viol and early music re-emerged in the 20th century, and is performed by many of the world’s top virtuosi, like Paolo Pandolfo, Jose Vazquez, Jordi Savall, and Hille Perl.

The world’s largest collection of Viola da Gambas is owned by the Orpheon Foundation and currently available for viewing at Duino castle in Duino, Italy.

Calm Radio’s Viola da Gamba music channel was specially curated to include only the gentlest, most relaxing classical music with the viol for the ultimate experience of calm.

Listen to Viola da Gamba music and relaxing viol music on Calm Radio, as well as our many calming classical music channels for relaxation, focus, work, and sleep. Listen free in the Calm Radio app available for iPhone, iPad, Android, Apple TV, Alexa, Roku, Sonos, Bluesound, Kindle and many other devices.

Listen 24/7 to unlimited channels on unlimited devices

Enjoy your audio journey anywhere, even without internet. Calm Radio offers unique audio experiences – curated music, Sounds of Nature, relaxing ambience – so you can work, can focus, can relax, can sleep.

  • Windows
  • macOS
  • Android
  • iOS
  • Alexa
  • Sonos
  • Apple TV 4
  • Roku