Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/106

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page needs to be proofread.


90

��TENOR VIOLIN.

��probably based on reminiscences of this class of music. But the compass and general effect ol the instruments being the same, the disappearance of the great viola was only a matter of time. Though the fiddle-makers continued for some time to make violas of two sizes, alto and tenor [see STRADIVARI], the two instruments coalesced for practical purposes, and the superior facility with which the smaller viola (Alto) was handled caused the true Tenor to drop out of use. From about the end of the century the Alto viola appears to have assumed the place in the orchestra which it still occupies, and to have had substantially the same characteristics.

The Tenor has been made of all sizes, ranging from the huge instruments of Caspar di Salo and his contemporaries to the diminutive ones, scarcely an inch longer than the standard violin, commonly made for orchestral use a century or so ago : and its normal size of one-seventh larger than the violin is the result of a compromise. The explanation is that it is radically an ano- malous instrument. Its compass is fixed by strictly musical requirements: but when the instrument is built large enough to answer acoustically to its compass, that is, so as to produce the notes required of it as powerfully as the corresponding notes on the violin, it comes out too large for the average human being to play it fiddle-wise, and only fit to be played cello- wise between the knees. If, however, the Tenor is to be played like the violin, and no one has seriously proposed to play it otherwise, it follows that its size must be limited by the length of the human arm when bent at an angle of about 1 20 degrees. But even the violin is already big enough : though instruments have from time to time been made somewhat larger than usual, and that by eminent makers [see STRADIVARI], play- ers have never adopted them ; and it is practi- cally found that one-seventh longer than the ordinary violin is the outside measurement for the Tenor if the muscles of the arms and hands are to control the instrument comfortably, and to execute ordinary passages upon it. The Tenor is therefore by necessity a dwarf: it is too small for its pitch, and its tone is muffled in conse- quence. But its very defects have become the vehicle of peculiar beauties. Every one must have remarked the penetrating quality of its lower strings, and the sombre and passionate effect of its upper ones. Its tone is consequently so distinctive, and so arrests the attention of the listener, that fewer Tenors are required in the orchestra than second violins.

Composers early discovered the distinctive capabilities of the Tenor. Handel knew them, though he made but little use of them : they were first freely employed in that improvement of the dramatic orchestra by Gluck and Sacchini, which preceded its full development under Mozart. Previously to this, the Tenor was chiefly used to fill up in the Tutti. Sometimes it played in unison with the violins ; more frequently with the violoncellos : but in general it was assigned a lower second violin part. Handel employs the

��TENOR VIOLIN.

Tenor with striking effect in 'Revenge, Timotheus cries.' The first part of the song, in D major, is led by the violins and hautboys in dashing and animated passages ; then succeeds the trio in G minor, which introduces the vision of the ' Grecian ghosts, that in battle were slain.' Here the violins are silent, and the leading parts, in measured largo time, are given to the tenors in two divisions, each division being reinforced by bassoons. The effect is one of indescribable gloom and horror. It is noteworthy that the composer, whether to indicate the theoretical relation of the two parts, or the practical employment of the larger Tenors by themselves for the lower one, has written the first part only in the alto clef, and headed it ' Viola,' the second part being written in the Taille or true tenor clef, and headed 'Tenor' : but the compass of the parts is identical. The climax will serve as a specimen :

��Viola e Basson 1 mo.

���ft

��bu-rled re-main.

��� �