viol. Type of bowed str. instr., made in various sizes. Developed in Renaissance period, then superseded by vn. family, now revived for perf. of early mus. Origins obscure, but probably developed from efforts to apply bow to plucked instr. during 2nd half of 15th cent. in Spain. Term ‘viol’ was used generically, like vihuela in Sp. Consort of viols mentioned in Eng. records of King's Musick for 1540. Shape of viol varied much during first century of existence. Documentation of 1556 says that Fr. viols had 5 str. tuned in 4ths, whereas It. viols had 6. All viols were played held downwards, larger sizes between the legs, smaller resting on knees. Eng. composers from Byrd to Purcell wrote superb series of works for viols, a consort (or chest) normally comprising 2 trebles, 2 tenors, and 2 basses. Viol had flat back, frets, and C-shaped sound-holes. Bow held in underhand grip with fingers controlling tension of horse-hair. Prin. types of viol. are: division viol: smaller version of bass viol suitable for agile playing of divisions (variations); lyra-viol: instr. specially built for virtuoso viol players who practised double- and triple-stopping, pizzicato, etc.; mus. written in tablature. Tobias Hume's First Part of Ayres, 1605, is lyra-viol mus. See also baryton, viola d'amore, viola da braccio, viola da gamba.
viol Fretted stringed instrument, played with a bow. It is held on or between the knees and, in its most usual shape, has sloping shoulders and a flat back. The six strings are tuned in fourths, in the same manner as the lute. A possible derivative, the modern double bass, is perhaps the only type of viol to survive; it shows its ancestry by being tuned in fourths (unlike members of the violin family, which are tuned in fifths).
vi·ol / ˈvīəl/ • n. a musical instrument of the Renaissance and baroque periods, typically six-stringed, held vertically and played with a bow.
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