Antique violas are stringed musical instruments produced over 100 years ago.
Brief history and description
The viola is a stringed instrument that is slightly larger than a violin, and it is often used in symphonies to harmonize with both violins and cellos. The viola is considered to be much more difficult to play than a violin because the bow is significantly longer thus the player's arm must be held further away from the body.
There are no records which pinpoint exactly who invented the viola, however, it is believed that it was created sometime in Italy during the 1500s. Since its creation, builders of the viola have been experimenting with its various shapes and sizes, thus a modern-day viola looks much different than a viola that was built hundreds of years ago.
Some of the most famous viola makers include Andrea Amati, Gasparo de Salò, Andrea Guarneri and Antonio Stradivari, and some of the earliest famous viola players in history include Alessandro Rolla, Antonio Rolla, Chrétien Urhan, Casimir Ney, Louis van Waefelghem and Hermann Ritter.
The first known musical composition to use a viola was the Sonata pian’e forte by Giovanni Gabrieli in 1597. Composers such as Wagner, Mozart and J.S. Bach were known for using the viola in their music, and both J.S. Bach and Mozart preferred to use the viola instead of violins in orchestras. (Bach's Brandenburg Concertos contained "extensive" viola harmony as well as Mozart's string quintets).
Guide for collectors
Violas that were made in Italy tend to be considered the most valuable, and chances are if the viola is Italian it was more than likely made by someone who has a good reputation for making high-quality instruments. Both authentic French or Italian violas are considered to be a good investment for collectors as their costs have increased significantly in the past 50 years, while violas that were made in China, Taiwan or Hong Kong are considered to be less valuable.
Also, a handmade viola, as opposed to a factory or machine-made viola, are considered to be more valuable as well. It is said that violas made by the Stradivari family are the most expensive and rare violas in the world given that only 13 exist; (as a matter of fact, even a replica or false Stradivarius viola can still be considered valuable).
Restoration of an authentic antique viola is quite common if it has noticeable cracks and/or damage, especially if the owner plans on using the instrument and/or reselling it in the future.
The American Viola Society (americanviolasociety.org) has information regarding antique violas as well as the International Viola Society (www.internationalviolasociety.org).
Notable auction sales
Tarisio's, an Internet-based auction house, sold a 1616 Antonius and Hieronymus Amati viola for $775,500 in January of 2000, a 1680 Brothers Grancino viola for $286,000 in November of 2000, a Lorenzo Storioni viola for $146,250 in October of 2007 and a Michele Deconet viola for £62,500 in February of 2007.
Christie's in New York sold a viola by Gaspara Bertolotti da Salò for $542,500 in April of 2010.
Sotheby's in London sold a 16th century "Sacra Conversazione" viola for £48,000 in July of 2007.