Viola pomposa and its related instruments

Viola pomposa and its related instruments

Comments on previous article about the viola pomposa and its related instruments

Abstract. This brief article points out some differences between viola pomposa and violoncello da spalla, commenting informal video examples available on Internet.

I have been informed that some readers were asking questions about “violoncello da spalla”, which motivates me to write my own opinion about the research on this subject. Examples given from Internet means this is not a formal article, but may give quick and inspiring answers to the curious reader.

My previous article about viola pomposa (PAULINYI, 2010) explained the historical misuse of its name. Viola pomposa actually refers to a five-stringed orchestra viola of baroque origin, in which the first string may be tuned up to E, like the violin. Nevertheless, that name was wrongly associated to a bigger instrument, the violoncello da spalla, which is quite small even when compared to violoncello piccolo. The term “violoncello da spalla” means a violoncello that can be played on the shoulder, but it is more appropriate to say it is played on the thorax, as one can see on Sigiswald Kuijken’s videos (AQUILA, 2010). Both violoncello piccolo and violoncello da spalla, tuned as an orchestra violoncello, can have five strings as well. Aquila and Kuijken made a beautiful development on responsive strings to this kind of instruments, solving interesting acoustical questions imposed by its small dimensions.

The viola pomposa has no problems with currently available synthetic strings, although they have a shorter lifetime because of the higher bridge (which makes a shaper angle on the strings). The E string lifetime (originally developed for the violin!) is about one month, for example.

There are some new videos featuring the viola pomposa in a solo concert written by Harry Crowl (2008), Brazilian composer living in Curitiba. The concert is called “Antíteses” because of the opposition between the extremely dense viola pomposa part against the light orchestral parts. It is a four-movement concert, in which the second one is accompanied with the winds, and the third is a big solo cadence. I performed it at October 20, 2010, at Inimá de Paula Museum in Belo Horizonte, with Charles Roussin conducting the Symphonic Orchestra of Minas Gerais.

These rare instruments, while pose challenging technical features, give new expressive paths to players who desire to dive into music and bring to life the sonorous face of beauty.

 Zoltan Paulinyi

About Paulinyi

Zoltan Paulinyi, director of SPES International Exchange Program for contemporary chamber music between Brasília and European cities. Brazilian composer; violinist of the National Theatre Symphonic Orchestra (OSTNCS) since 2000, soloist of the viola section in 2009; soloist of the first violin section in 2007 and mid-2010. Bachelor in Physics at the Federal University of Minas Gerais State (UFMG, 1999), received a Master degree in Music at the University of Brasília (UnB, 2010) and makes a doctoral research in Composition at the University of Évora. His recordings, compositions and published works are found on his web page.

[email protected]


AQUILA. Cello da spalla string project. Available at: <> access on Nov 18, 2010.

CROWL, Harry. Antíteses: I movement. Curitiba: 2008. Available at:  access on Nov 18, 2010.

CROWL, Harry. Antíteses: II movement. Curitiba: 2008. Available at:  access on Nov 18, 2010.

CROWL, Harry. Antíteses: III (cadence) and IV movement. Curitiba: 2008. Available at: access on Nov 18, 2010.

PAULINYI, Zoltan. The viola pomposa growing usage. Romania: No. 14 plus minus Contemporary Music Journal, n. 16, October 10, 2010. Available at: Access on Nov 11, 2010.

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