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Viola - Sound combinations

Viola + string orchestra

Viola + viola
The sound of the violas as a group achieves an austere charm which is used for melodic tasks at dramatic turning points, especially in the opera orchestra.

Viola + violin
Produces a mellow and full sound which is dominated by the violins. Gives the impression that the sound is reinforced. Octave combinations of the 1st and 2nd violins with the violas produce a broad, expansive and carrying effect, although such combinations are generally too weak to supply a firm foundation unless they have the support of the cellos playing in unison. Double and triple octaves played by the 1st and 2nd violins with the violas and cellos are most effective when the orchestra reaches melodic high points. The viola never matches the projecting volume of the violin.

Viola + cello
The cello sounds more powerful and more intense. Played together the two instruments produce a full sound which is dominated by the cellos. In the upper register the viola takes away some of the cello’s brightness and the sound becomes more mellow. In the highest register the bright elements reinforce each other. In octaves an expansive and harmonious effect is produced for cantilenas in the tenor register.

Viola + double-bass
The violas can sound like a partial of the double-basses. It is particularly important to balance the respective dynamic levels.

Viola + harp
The strings’ pizzicato blends well with the harp. Pizzicato is often used as a “harp substitute”.

Viola + woodwinds

There is a great affinity between the strings and the woodwinds.
Generally speaking woodwinds provide the strings with more volume and power, while the strings make the woodwinds more mellow, especially when playing in unison. If the strings are playing with a single woodwind instrument in different registers the latter can assert itself.

In high registers and played forte or fortissimo the viola is perfectly capable of matching the woodwinds for intensity and acerbity of sound, an effect that is intensified when the groups play in combination. In piano passages, on the other hand, the viola lends the woodwinds a more mellow sound.

Viola + oboe
The high notes (A string) are to a certain extent related in timbre to the oboe.

Viola + brass wind instruments

The combination of violas and the majority of the brass produces a relatively homogeneous sound. Particularly harmonious effects are achieved by piano playing in octave combinations. As a rule though, the tonal blend with the woodwinds is better.

The blend is strongly influenced by the playing technique employed by the strings (pizzicato, col legno). The use of the mute on brass instruments makes them sound similar to the strings and improves the blend. If the two groups are joined by the woodwinds, particularly the clarinets, the blend between strings and woodwinds is improved.

Viola + trumpet
An interesting sound combination in piano passages and in octaves.

Viola + horn
The horn achieves the best blend of the brass section with the violins, especially in combination with the cellos.

Viola + trombone, tuba
Poor blend.