Bass Viol by an Anonymous maker, c1700



The table is of two unmatched pieces with 8 to 5 growth rings per cm. The soundholes are of curious shape, like F holes with the upper eye straightened out to form a sort of J. A similar instrument, also anonymous, is in the Händel-Haus collection in Halle. The edge purfling is black-white-black.

The back is two pieces of almost slab-cut maple with irregular medium flame and wavy grain. There is no purfling. The ribs are six pieces of quartered maple with irregular medium flame.

The modern neck is maple, spliced to the original head and pegbox. A cherub head sits atop a pegbox with large flowers carved on the sides, centered on each peghole, the ground behind them stippled, as is the entire back of the pegbox. The six modern pegs are boxwood.
The modern fingerboard and tailpiece are maple with floral marquetry in ebony and boxwood. The hookbar is ebony.
The varnish is dark brown.

Body length 69.0
Body width
      upper bout 30.4
      center bout 21.7
      lower bout 37.0
String length 71.0
Rib height
      top block 9.7
      fold 12.2
      upper corners 12.5
      lower corners 12.5
      bottom block 12.4

There is no label.

Bought in April 1975 from Jacques Francais, New York.

We had come to know Jacques Francais, the noted string instrument dealer in New York, after buying the Salomon pardessus from him in 1972. Certainly as a major dealer he was able to find instruments when he knew we were looking. Three years later he let us know that he had a “little French bass” we might like to see. It had five strings and a cello-like setup. Jim really liked it and at that time was buying anything he could find. The price was not too high so I acquiesced. When Jim spent much of his 1977–78 sabbatical year looking at collections in Europe, he saw a viol at the Händel-Haus in Halle that has similar C holes and was at the time attributed to Johann Christian Hoffmann. These soundholes are quite distinctive (Jim loved to call them the J.C. holes and point out that they matched his own initials), so naturally we felt that our viol was probably also a Hoffmann. Since then, however, the Halle viol has lost its attribution, and while Friedemann Hellwig would not go so far to say ours is a Hoffmann, he could understand why Jim would think so. Since it was one of Jim’s favorites, I still privately refer to it as the Hoffmann in his honor. We had Michael Heale restore it to a viol and he added a beautiful inlaid fingerboard decoration. Jim enjoyed playing this viol, both as a continuo and as a consort instrument, because of its clear and responsive bass register.

At about the same time Francais showed us a Dodd transitional cello bow. It was expensive and I was getting concerned about how much money we were spending, but Jim insisted on buying it. A pattern had established itself in our relationship: Jim would be excited about something new, I would resist simply because of the money involved, he would win, after we bought the object I would come to be happy with it, and he would be angry that we had gone through the dance yet again. So the Dodd bow was another time that I was wrong to have put up a fight. It is a marvelous bow that draws a very beautiful sound, and I never tired of thanking Jim for his insistence.


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Georg Philipp Telemann is well known today for his prodigious output, and was famous in his own time for the quality of his music. He played most instruments, including the viola da gamba, which gave him insight into the particular sound that each type of instrument creates. Much of his work is relatively simple technically, but this solo sonata seems to have been intended for an advanced player. He published it in two issues of his bi-weekly musical magazine, Der getreue Music-Meister, in 1728–29. Since this piece was written in Hamburg, it is particularly fitting to perform it on the Tielke viols, as well as two slightly later instruments, which also provides an opportunity to demonstrate the subtle differences between these four German viols. The anonymous German instrument can release its aggressiveness in the brilliant second movement.

The anonymous German viol that we always called the Hoffmann was one of Jim’s favorites. It is really loud. I’m not sure how much of the sound carries, but under the ear I think it is the most aggressive viol of the collection. I’ve rarely played it and determined that I could tame it somewhat and play fairly softly on it, but it really wants to shout. Despite the loudness, it seems a bit shallow in the depth of the sound and is quite difficult to play with much subtlety. Jim used it often for continuo and particularly liked it for Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 6, when one has to balance two violas who are usually playing as loud as possible!