viola is the alto or tenor instrument of the violin family. It is bigger
than a violin, and lower-pitched, but otherwise it looks similar. The
strings are tuned to C (below middle C), G, D, A which are all one fifth lower
than the corresponding strings on a
violin. Though its lowest notes
are fairly low, they do not have a lot of power, as the viola has a small
body, unlike its bass cousin, the cello. Its tone is somewhat rougher than the
violin's, and it has not been used as a solo instrument to any significant
However, there are a few important works written for the viola.
Berlioz wrote his tone poem "Harold in Italy" for viola and orchestra,
and Mozart wrote his "Sinfonia Concertante" for violin and viola with
In the orchestra, the violas form a vital section of the
strings, as they contribute the "tenor" part to the harmony. In string
quartets, where there are two violins, one viola, and one cello, the viola
becomes a lot more prominent. Here, its unique tone colour is easily
distinguishable from the sweeter but more strident tone of the two violins.