Middle fiddle no more


British viola concerti and the rise of viola virtuosity 1880-1910

This study investigates the viola as a solo instrument in Britain during the period 1880-1910.  Current scholarship attributes the increased recognition of the viola and its burgeoning status as a solo instrument to British violist Lionel Tertis from 1910 onwards, disregarding the efforts of foreign-born contemporaries. The lack of scholarship investigating the socio-cultural contexts of the viola in Britain before 1910 perpetuates the notion that violists were, at best, second-rate violinists. However, the late nineteenth century saw a surge of interest in the viola with an awareness of how the middle fiddle’s unique timbral properties might be married with virtuosic technique. Many works featuring the viola as a solo instrument were composed in Britain between 1880 and 1910. This includes four violaconcerti,[1] chamber works for viola-piano, musical novelties, and ten method books, all of which bolstered the technical standard and fledgling profession of violists in Britain. This investigation initially uses archival research to situate the viola in socio-cultural contexts of British music-making. Chapter 1 reveals examples of viola practitioners and their careers in Victorian concert society (1820-1880). Chapter 2 uncovers training provision for violists in London conservatoires (1880-1910), and Chapter 3 illustrates solo violists and their careers in British concert culture (1880-1910). The second component of the study is practice-led. Chapter 4 considers technical advancements in viola technique. Chapter 5 presents a practice-based case study which investigates theoretical aspects of performance practice at the turn of the century relevant to Emil Kreuz’s Concerto for Viola and Orchestra(1892) and Cecil Forsyth’s Viola Concerto in G minor (1903). This case study questions the craft of historically informing interpretation through a comparison of critical and performative interpretations in recorded examples of these two concerti. Concluding statements connect these components to reveal a thriving period in the viola’s history, clarifying misconstrued notions of the instrument’s supposedly impoverished status in British concert culture.  Through my live and recorded performance efforts, I hope to place findings of historically-informed expression and meaning in a greater context, offering new performance insights to contemporary performances of these selected viola concerti today.   [1] The four concerti include: Emil Kreuz’s Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (1892), Sir John Blackwood McEwen’s Viola Concerto (1901), Cecil Forsyth’s Viola Concerto in G minor (1903) and York Bowen’s Viola Concerto in C minor Op. 25 (1908).