What in the world is a Viola Da Spalla?
British cellist/gambist and blogger Hetti Price:
Recent research has suggested that all the Bach cello suites were not written as we assume for a baroque cello, but instead for a violoncello da spalla (meaning shoulder cello). This instrument is held across the chest by a strap around the neck and pictures from the period show that instruments played in this way varied in size from instruments of a similar size to a viola (but with deeper ribs), to a full sized cello. The instrument would have likely been used for parading, by street musicians walking with their instruments, or in galleries where there was not enough room for the musician to play their instrument in the ‘normal’ way.
Recent research suggests that J.S. Bach himself both owned and wrote for the ‘da spalla,” and this summer, Heifetz concertgoers got the unprecedented opportunity actually to see and hear this instrument in living color, thanks to Heifetz alum and HeifetzPEG faculty member Andrew Gonzalez. Check out perhaps the the first professional audio/video recordings ever to feature the instrument, captured in performance at the Blackfriars Playhouse of the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia. Breathtaking!
Remember, if you enjoy our Video of the Week feature, you can check out the entire series here– and subscribe to get them in your inbox every week!