The Bohemian Viola d’amore

Elizabeth Watson’s most recent CD, The Bohemian Viola D’amore was recorded with harpsichordist Robert Aldwinckle.

Stamitz Sonata in D
Toeschi Sonata in D
Benda Sonata in A
Rust Aria con variazione
Hoffmeister Divertimento
Sound clips:
track 1 (Sonata in D, Stamitz, first movement)
track 11 (Aria con variazione, Rust)

Czech musicians sometimes took their talents and insights to Germany. The Stamitz family moved to Mannheim, where they composed and played and inspired other composers, including Toeschi, Kreutzer and Mozart. Benda went to Potsdam where he led the orchestra at the court of Frederick the Great and made music with C.P.E.Bach and Quantz and taught Rust. Their music has great charm and imagination and, with the Divertimento by Mozart’s friend Hoffmeister fills this CD.

Liner notes

Sonata in D major, Carl Stamitz (1745–1801)

Carl was a son of Johann Stamitz (stamic) who moved from Bohemia to Mannheim where he founded the famous orchestra which inspired Mozart. Carl played violin, viola and viola d’amore as an international soloist and as a member of his father’s orchestra. In the third movement of this sonata the player is required to hold double-stopping while executing left-hand pizzicato, a difficult manoeuvre when, to be in period, one has no chin-rest to steady the instrument.

Sonata in D major, Giovanni Toeschi (1735–1796)

The Toeschi (Toesca) family of musicians moved from Italy to Mannheim where Giovanni and his brother studied with Stamitz and played in the orchestra. Giovanni’s interest in ballet is shown in lively rhythms, and his Italian heritage in the singing slow movement.

Sonata in A major, Frantisek Benda (1709–1786)

A chorister in Prague as a boy, Benda learnt the viola and violin. He became Konzertmeister at the court of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, working closely with the flute-player, Quantz. This sonata uses only the top four strings of the viola d’amore, with hardly any double-stopping, but it shows originality and depth of feeling. The third movement is a theme with six variations.

Aria con Variazione, Frederich Wilhelm Rust (1739–1796)

Rust, who lived mostly in Dessau, Germany, had studied in Potsdam, the violin with Benda and composition with C.P.E.Bach. He was a violin virtuoso as well as composer. This aria with seven variations is inspired by a love poem by Cronegk and is full of romantic feeling.

Divertimento, Franz Anton Hoffmeister (1754–1812)

Hoffmeister lived mostly in Vienna and Leipzig, where he published music by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and others. He became a prolific composer and friend of Mozart. This Divertimento was conceived for viola d’amore and string trio, the trio in E flat and the d’amore in D, tuned up a semitone to give it brightness to help the balance. Mozart used a similar strategy in his Sinfonia Concertante. In this performance the harpsichord part has been realised by Robin Hagues and Robert Aldwinckle.


A member of the viol family, the viola d’amore has usually a flat back, sloping shoulders, sound-holes in the shape of the flaming sword, an image associated with Islam, sometimes a rose carved in the front, and often a blind cupid crowning the peg-box. Early instruments in north Germany had no sympathetic strings, but there were varied shapes, numbers of strings and tunings. By the middle of the 18th century it was widely played in central Europe and usually had six or seven each of playing and sympathetic strings, often tuned in a chord of D major or minor. The sympathetic strings may have been inspired by oriental instruments or may have been added to enliven the sound of the viol. The name “viola d’amore” means “viola of love”, but can imply Moorish origins. The baryton is a similar, but larger and lower, instrument.

The music on this CD is by composers of Bohemian descent or tradition in the 18th century. The viola d’amore played here is Bohemian of the second quarter of the 18th century and has seven gut playing strings, the lower ones covered, and seven wire sympathetic strings. The baroque bow is by Roy Collins. The harpsichord, by John Horniblow, is modelled on an instrument of the period by Thomas Hitchcock in the Victoria and Albert Museum: English harpsichords were favoured in Germany. We play at pitch A=430, a pitch in use at the time: it gives freedom of sonority to the instruments. Our performing style is based on wide reading and awareness of the character of music-making at the time in central Europe.