Viola design: some problems with standardization

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There has not been a standard-sized viola design to this day. A modern viola typically has a body length between 16 and 18 inches. Instrument makers and composers did not favor viola players, so the instrument has developed much more slowly than other instruments in the violin family since the sixteenth century. Throughout the twentieth century, interest in viola design has grown and many new shapes and sizes of violas have been developed. As the viola became more popular, players noticed issues related to injuries from playing large instruments. Makers sought a more appropriate size to fit individual players and became interested in making smaller violas that offered reduced tension in playing but were still able to produce a good sound and achieve a higher technical standard of playing. In this project, I will describe and compare the search for the ideal viola size and design by five well-known viola makers who have designed unique but functional violas currently in use by performers: Otto Erdesz (1917-2000), Hiroshi Iizuka (b. 1945), David Rivinus (b. 1949), Joseph Curtin (b. 1953), and Gabrielle Kundert-Clements (b. 1957). Based on this research, I will suggest an acoustically proper size for a standardized viola, but with a freer shape. In my analysis, I will point out the advantages and disadvantages of each design by comparing the shape, body length, string length, thickness of neck, and string height. This dissertation will also include interviews and surveys completed by five makers and thirteen players.

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