The viola originated in northern Italy during the mid-sixteenth century. It appeared as part of a family (or ‘consort’) of similarly-designed instruments with various sizes that included the Baroque violin and cello. Within the consort, the Baroque viola doubled vocal parts or accompanied dances, covering both the alto and tenor ranges. These requirements of range in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries resulted in a wider degree of sizes for the viola than what is seen in the modern orchestra. Though the viola had few opportunities for solo repertoire in the early Baroque period, it attracted the attention of various composers by the mid-seventeenth century – there exists a moderate repertoire of viola sonatas and concerti by composers such as Telemann. The instrument became a standard instrument in the orchestra from that point onwards and evolved into the ‘modern’ viola by the end of the eighteenth century. The Baroque viola in EMV’s instrument collection was made by Jay Haide Violins.
The cello featured alongside the viola in the Baroque consort, and the earliest surviving Baroque cellos date from the early to mid 1500s and were made by the Amati family of instrument makers. While the instrument is known today as the cello, previous names included the violin, the violoncello, and the ‘basse de violin’ (bass violin) as it was known in France. Although the Baroque cello frequently accompanied other instruments or voices by playing continuo, it rose to prominence as a solo instrument with the cello sonatas of Vivaldi and Corelli and the cello suites of J.S. Bach. In the eighteenth century, the cello was modified to meet the increasing demands of Classical-era music – it was reduced in size so as not to be ‘unwieldy’, and its bow was curved inwards rather than outwards. EMV’s Baroque cello was made in 1973 by Canadian luthier Ross Hill of Aeolian Strings.