In Germany, the gamba was used primarily in pieces of sacred music, such as those written by Heinrich Schultz.
It is important to note that, although the courts, royalty, and upper class of Europe were extremely fond of the gamba, there were also many soloists who performed on a smaller scale. Particularly in England, the gamba was an instrument in many private homes, where amateur players performed for their own enjoyment, and for their friends and families. Since the instrument was simple to play on a small scale, it was popular for many amateur players and with the treatise mentioned above, nearly anyone had access to writings aimed at improving one's skill.
The gamba was even a tool for courtship in the Renaissance, played by young men in the presence of women as part of the process to gain her respect and adoration. In the manual for courtship "Il Libro del Cortegiano," written by Baldassare Castiglione in 1528, there is mention of the viola da gamba as a necessary device, particularly for noblemen. Described as delicate, sweet, and artful, the gamba was said to "predispose one to all sorts of thoughts...," which was a desired outcome for any courtier.
Decline of the Viola Da Gamba
The viola da gamba continued to be used as a solo instrument throughout Europe during the sixteenth century, as well as in the seventeenth century. In France and Germany, the instrument even enjoyed some success in the eighteenth century, with composers such as Bach and Abel writing specific pieces for soloists. Unfortunately, as the larger concert halls began to draw audiences, the popularity of the gamba began to wane, particularly as a solo instrument. Moved back into the general orchestra, the instrument its self was eventually replaced almost exclusively by the cello and violin. With their louder, more strident tones, these instruments outshined the gamba, and the instrument slowly faded from history.
However, while the instrument may have faded from view following its extreme popularity in the sixteenth century, it certainly left lasting legacies. The concepts of transforming traditional instruments into new, more viable tools when needed would last through the next few centuries, as instruments continued to develop with new styles and techniques. Some of the methods introduced in the sixteenth century by these brave soloists are still present in today's music, particularly that of the free fantasie, which is used among today's best jazz and blues players. Additionally, the concept of using music in courtship is still present, as are the countless manuals available to the public, designed to teach others to become masterful artists on their instruments of choice. These lasting impacts on the world of music are what has allowed the viola da gamba to see a revival in the twentieth century, and what provide a reason for musicians, historians, and orchestras to preserve this beautiful instrument for the future.
Blumberg, Roger. "The Cipher for the Viola Da Gamba and Lute." The Cipher System. Available at http://www.thecipher.com/viola_da_gamba_cipher.html;Internet; retrieved 12 October 2005.
Informational site designed for those unfamiliar with musical theory, which explains basic information on instrument design, theory, and historical importance.
Ganassi, Selvestro. Regola Rubertina. Translated by Richard Bodig. Sydney, Australia: Saraband Publications, 2000.
Translated version of Ganassi's original treatise, which contains volumes of advice for both the new and skilled player. Also contains numerous example pieces, designed to demonstrate each technique for easier learning.
Grout, Donald, J. And Claude V. Palisca. A History of Western Music. New York: Norton, 2001.
Thorough and comprehensive study of music history, discussing composers, trends and styles, and evaluating how each intertwines with all forms of history. Slightly conservative, but complete from ancient Greece to modern era. A very informative piece for the musical historian.
Haskell, Harry. The Early Music Revival. London, England: Thames and Hudson, 1988.
Informative documentation of early music revival in the eighteenth century, with reference to earlier periods. Interesting section on period instrument manufacturers. Not as useful for pre-eighteenth century music, but references are complete.
Kingsbury Ensemble. "Viola da Gamba." Instruments. Available at http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~sacarlin/kingbury/Instruments/gamba.html;Internet; retrieved 12 October 2005.
Educational site by Washington University in St. Louis, NAIAD Records, and the Kingsbury Ensemble, one of the Midwest's most premier early music ensemble. Site features a variety of information on the history, development, and modern use of various instruments.
New York Consort of Viols. "A Brief History of the Viol." The Viol. Available at http://www.nyconsortofviols.org.Internet; accessed 12 October 2005.
Site designed by the renowned NYCOV, acclaimed for their presentation of Renaissance period music. Site is informative, although somewhat limited, and covers all types of the viol.
Orpheon Foundation. "Origins." Orpheon Museum Educational Journal. Available at http://www.mdw.ac.at/I105/orpheon/Seiten/education/OriginVdg.html. Internet; accessed 12 October 2005.
Extremely informative and authoritative site, developed by the authority of early music history, the Orpheon Foundation, part of the European Chamber Music Academy. Covers all aspects of the instrument, including early history, origin, development, use, countries of interest, works, composers, and theory.
Pauly, Reinhard G., ed. The Amadeus Book of the Violin: Construction, History, and Music. Portland, OR: Amadeus Press, 1993.
While mostly pertaining to the violin, the work references other stringed instruments important to the development of the violin. Comprehensive in nature, impressive in detail, although somewhat dry at times, the section on performance is outstanding.
Stanley, Sadie, ed. "Viol." The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. London, England: Macmillan Publishers, 1980.
The most comprehensive, complete music encyclopedia available in English. Covers nearly all of history, and all aspects of musical history, including responses to social changes, alterations in popular thought, and politics. Biographies are somewhat limited, however, and photographs are extremely dark.
Stowell, Robin. The Early Violin and Viola: A Practical Guide. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
While mostly covering the violin, the work does concentrate portions on related instruments. Covers six case studies of early composers to assist performers in reproducing both the sound and style of early violin and viola music. Limited in scope, but the information it does convey is complete.
Viola da gamba." Columbia Encyclopedia, 5th ed, 2000.
Entry is informative in description of viola da gamba, with detailed reference to the physical characteristics of the instrument. Very little information on the history, but does cover important topics on the viol family relationships.
Viola de Gamba Society of America. "Where Was Viol Music Heard?." About the Viol. Available at http://vdgsa.org/pgs/stuff.html#COMPOSE;Internet; retrieved 12 October 2005.
Very brief section of a larger site designed by the VGSA. Overall site is informative, describing in detail the physical characteristics, as well as a historical overview of the instrument.
Wellesz, Egon., ed. Ancient and Oriental Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Wonderful resource for ancient instruments, the information is very concise and detailed, with descriptions of each instrument and its relation to more modern instruments. Also contains a section on theory in ancient and oriental music.
Woodfield, Ian. The Early History of the Viol. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
Detailed and concise reference for anyone interested in the viol, or its family instruments. Includes historical reference from the early tenth century through the late eighteenth century. Wonderful section on the soloists of France in the late seventeenth century.
Ian Woodfield, The Early History of the Viol (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 45.
Robin Stowell, The Early Violin and Viola: A Practical Guide (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 34.
Sadie, Stanley. ed., "Viol," The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (London, England: Macmillan Publishers, 1980), 553.
Columbia Encyclopedia, 5th ed, 2000, s.v. "Viola da gamba."
The "vihuela de mano" was a form of the Spanish lute with a guitar like body and frets to produce open notes. See Donald Jay Grout and Claude V. Palisca, A History of Western Music (New York: Norton, 2001), 208.
Orpheon Foundation, "Origins," Orpheon Museum Educational Journal; available at http://www.mdw.ac.at/I105/orpheon/Seiten/education/OriginVdg.html;Internet; accessed 12 October 2005.
The "rabab" is a native fiddle, dating back to Muslims of Spain in the tenth century. See Egon Wellesz, ed., Ancient and Oriental Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 445.
New York Consort of Viols, "A Brief History of the Viol," The Viol; available at http://www.nyconsortofviols.org;Internet; accessed 12 October 2005.
The term "viole a la spagnola" originally represented the name for the viol class of instruments in Italy in the late fifteenth century. See Roger Blumberg, "The Cipher for the Viola Da Gamba and Lute," The Cipher System; available at http://www.thecipher.com/viola_da_gamba_cipher.html;Internet; retrieved 12 October 2005.
Stanley, et al., The New Grove Dictionary, 553.
Reinhard G. Pauly, ed., The Amadeus Book of the Violin: Construction, History, and Music (Portland, OR: Amadeus Press, 1993), 83.
Kingsbury Ensemble, "Viola da Gamba," Instruments; available at http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~sacarlin/kingbury/Instruments/gamba.html;Internet; retrieved 12 October 2005.
Viola de Gamba Society of America, "Where Was Viol Music Heard?," About the Viol; available at http://vdgsa.org/pgs/stuff.html#COMPOSE;Internet; retrieved 12 October 2005.
Selvestro Ganassi, Regola Rubertina, translated by Richard Bodig (Sydney, Australia: Saraband Publications, 2000), 74-77.