It is important that the old Italian tradition and look be upheld and that excellence in sound and playability result, but most of all, that violin and viola making begins every day from the heart !
This Laubach workshop has a long history of quality violin making, with their workshop based in Bamberg, one of the most important centres of violin-making in Germany. Their Violas have a full, powerful, velvet tone, the sound is very even across the strings and they are very responsive.
This part of my site is for violists. Those of you who play the viola often have a special interest in contemporary viola maker's work, and with good reason! There are so few really great violas from the past out there, and the challenge of designing a great viola has only been well understood for a relatively short time. As a result violists have led the way in embracing modern making, and there now is a terrific selection available for violists.
The model is inspired by the Venetian Masters, but incorporates a modern understanding of viola ergonomics. That's just a fancy way of saying that it's real playable. I am making a limited series of violas of this pattern. Each will be an individual creation, with it's own personality. The model is 41,8 cm, and I also build a great sounding 40,6cm" model You can email me or call for more information.
Because the viola design presents special challenges, I. Laubach works on a number of patterns. In some instances, instrument models came from early Italian examples and these are noted.
There is a much wider choice for inspiration in pattern and size when designing and building violas. I have focused on the instruments of the Brescian makers such as Gasparo da Salo and G.P. Maggini.
I like the rugged look of the instruments and am drawn to the kind of sound they produce; a darker quality than I find with the Cremonese models. That said I also make a 16 1/4"viola patterned after the work of Andrea Guarneri, one of the great makers of Cremona. There is much to like in the bright focussed tone of this model.
A viola designed with a shortened string length coupled with cutaway upper bouts and lower bouts indented at the endpin, may provide the player with an instrument that is larger in size and yet easily managed. Many makers are designing and building such instruments and their worth has been proven in professional situations.
I have now developed and built a viola with these characteristics and it has been a satisfying project . The resulting instrument has sound qualities that are similar to my larger model violas and has playing characteristics that make it a easier to play. Shifting to higher positions on the C string is a pleasure and moving higher up the A string occurs without strain. There is enough of the upper bout next to the neck to convey the usual cues of position but the mildly indented upper bout allows the hand to reach the upper positions without stress.
Old resonance tonewoods used for Laubach violas were carefully selected from Northern Italy and the Balkan Peninsula of southern Europe. Spruce of particular resonant quality grow in isolated stands on the slopes of the Italian Alps. Bosnia has had centuries of disciplined logging practices and growing seasons resulting in maple logs of straight, tight grain and beautifully flamed. The tonal qualities of these woods have been prized by viola luthiers for over five centuries.
Old Italian viola varnish from Venice research is a lifelong effort for the violin & viola maker. The selection of resins is numerous, each with their own qualities of clarity, flexibility and durability lend for the perfect combination of an acoustical varnish. The resins used in a Laubach varnish are harvested from regions surrounding the Mediterranean. The varnish applied enhances the vibrational response of the wood and has a clarity with a golden luminescent underglow.
Laubach's limited edition viola blend easily in an orchestra full of centuries - old instruments.
This is due to their finish deep Antique imitation, warm and rich - qualities found only when using natural, non-synthetic materials and applying them with a slow hand application.
On average, the viola is 5 cm longer than the violin; unlike the violin and the cello, however, who have relatively standard norms, its size may vary by 8 cm from one instrument to another! Despite such disparties, its timbre is perfectly recognisable, for its deep tone quality is warm and veiled while its high notes are bright.
Master Viola technique, while quite similar to violin technique, is not identical. Care must be taken to hold the instrument without strain and to extend the fourth finger comfortably..
Professionals violas come in several different sizes. Using a smaller size can make the viola easier to play, but usually at the cost of volume, sound quality, or both.
For young viola students, smaller violas are available that are not much larger than their equivalent violin counterparts, but are thicker and slightly wider.
Full size Master Violas usually range from 14 inches in length, which is the same length as a full size violin, to 16 and 1/2 inches. At that larger size, it becomes difficult even to find a shoulder rest that fits. I do recommend that the violist play the largest instrument that is comfortable for him or her, but the necessity of playing without tension is perhaps more important than a fuller sound..
It is pretty rare that a violist takes center stage to perform solo with orchestra. One exception is violist Maxim Vengerov, whose beautiful sound and technique really make the viola sing. Among the greatest pieces in classical literature is Sinfonia Concertante, by Mozart. This piece features solo violin and viola with orchestra and is part of the standard orchestral literature played by the major orchestras around the world. Listening to this piece played by professionals is a good introduction to the ideal viola sound.
There have always been different sizes and types of viola, as well as different names – violino, violetta, cinquieme, quinte de violon and so on. But the orchestral viola is an abbreviation of viola da braccio (arm viola) and it is still called Bratsche in German. At the time of the great Cremonese makers of stringed instruments, Amati and Guarneri were making violas with a body length of 16 ¼ inches. Later violas were made between 17 to 18 ½ inches long, but by Mozart’s time a mere 14 to 15 inches. The Lionel Tertis version, first made in 1930, is 16 ¾ inches long. In the opinion of many makers and musicians the problem of the relationship between size and volume of sound of the viola has not yet been satisfactorily resolved. This can be seen to be true because in no one orchestra are all the violas of the same dimensions.
The story of the Italian viola is a sad one from which historians can wring little excitement. Interest in it in the first half of the 18th century was so feeble that there were hardly any violas made at all and it was not until string quartets became popular that the better performers began to brush up their Italian technique.
Champions of the viola have admittedly emerged from time to time, the Bohemian Karl Stamitz in particular. The Stamitz family was celebrated in the 18th century; in fact, the town of Mannheim, where they lived, was a strong contender with Vienna for importance in the development of classical music. Karl, who was a viola player, rescued the instrument from its obscurity by writing independent parts for it in his symphonies and by writing a viola concerto. Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert had all played the viola and recognized its potential, but mainly for chamber music for which they were more or less assured of skilled performers. In symphonic woks, wrote Berlioz, ‘it was unfortunately impossible…to write anything for violas of a prominent character, requiring even ordinary skill in execution.’ It was due to Berlioz that, after some years of wrangling, a viola class was established at the Paris Conservatoire. That was not until 1894, when half the world’s great symphonic music had already been written, and Lionel Tertis, the outstanding protagonist of the master viola, was already eighteen years old.
More than anyone else it was Tertis, a great player and a fine musician, who brought the viola respectability. He badgered composers to write for him, and he himself transcribed violin and cello concerti for the viola. In an attempt to overcome the weakness of the volume-to-size ratio of the instrument, Tertis redesigned the viola, but without ultimate success. Tertis was succeeded by other players, such as Bernard Shore, who also achieved international reputations. The viola section of the orchestra is today equal to any other string section in technical ability, and this is demonstrated by the quality and difficulty of the music now written for it..