This is, in some ways, a decidedly more eccentric instrument than my violin. I spent quite a while viola shopping around Oxford in the tail end of 2012, constrained partly by budget (mostly from an income tax rebate!) and partly by the discovery that even though I was just starting to grasp viola by transfer from or in addition to violin, most genuinely student or affordable instruments sounded too bad for me to put up with them!
In the end I got this from Simon Dubber in Witney (against fierce competition). He quoted a price for it when it was still awaiting refurbishment, and later admitted that it had turned out to be better than he thought as he was working on it, but being the gentleman he is, let me have it at the original price when I decided I wanted it. I don’t really want to imagine what its actual value is, but it’s certainly my single most valuable possession.
The instrument is unmarked and opinions vary a little, but the most likely estimate is that it’s inter-war, German-made or possibly somewhere a little south and east of that. It’s a 16-inch back, so not huge for a viola (the normal range is perhaps 14.5 to 17) and a slightly odd wide nut (meaning the strings are further apart than usual), but has a very ‘big viola’ sound. I wanted an instrument as distinct as easily possible from the violin, rather than as many violinists who double do a lower version of the same. As a result, there is a strong high to low register pattern, with the upper pitches soft and plaintive descending to a powerful, dark (not to say potentially gravelly) low-end C-string sound – which is utterly unlike anything you can get out of a violin and I love! It’s also unusually loud for a viola, which given they often struggle to balance against violins and cellos is quite convenient. That also puts me in the fairly unusual position for a string player of generally working harder to produce nice and genuinely quiet passages than powerful but unscratchy fortes!
As you will have realised, there are quirks to this instrument and it’s not always ‘well-behaved’. But I’ve grown to really like it, and I think it enables me to do a lot of things, some of them quite unusual. And I think we have a lot more to bring out of each other!