An Interview with Luca Sanzò: the Viola and the Viola D’Amore

Luca Sanzò, concert violist and professor at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome, will give a recital on October 5 at 4:00 p.m. dedicated to contemporary repertoire for viola and viola d’amore.


“It’s a life partner, able to charm you every day”: words of Luca Sanzò, concert violist, professor at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome and expert of the repertoire for the viola d’amore.

An instrument larger than the viola, the viola d’amore has fourteen strings: seven to be played and the other seven, running under the bridge and fingerboard, resonate in sympathy, giving the instrument a peculiar timbre. It was widely used during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and partially abandoned in the nineteenth century because it was outclassed by the use of the more flexible classical instruments of the violin family. It survived in some compositions as a curious timbre used especially to evoke a sense of archaism, as in Les Huguenots by Meyerbeer.

What was the fate of the viola d’amore in the twentieth century?

The viola d’amore in the hands of twentieth-century composers was fully liberated from being a symbol of bygone days, acquiring a veritable modern dimension, something that has not happened for example, with other Baroque instruments such as the viola da gamba, which has remained almost exclusively within the context of its historical role.

In the twentieth century, precisely because of its voice, the viola d’amore has found fertile ground for coloristic experiments by various composers beginning with Paul Hindemith. One feature that has inspired the most creativity in composers is the possibility of various tunings (there was, in fact, even in the Baroque period, standard tuning for the instrument), combining both the strings which are actually played by the bow and the resonant sympathetic strings.

One of the works that I will play, the Solo per Viola d’Amore by Georg Friedrich Haas, is based on the note “E” (mi) which resonates on the viola d’amore with particularly ample vibrations and harmonics. In the case of this piece, the sympathetic strings are not tuned in the usual tempered manner (as with the piano), but according to their natural inclination in relation to the note “E”. This greatly increases their capacity for resonance.

Who studies viola d’amore today?

It’s mostly violinists and violists who are willing to take on the challenge: the size of the instrument, the very close strings and the interchangeability of the tunings are among the main difficulties first encountered. Difficulties are exacerbated by the fact that there is no real teaching of the viola d’amore, simply because there is no ” violist d’amore.” I approached the viola d’amore on my own in order to perform a piece of contemporary music by Giulio Castagnoli, Estrephé per Viola d’Amore e Chitarra a Dodici Corde.

How is the diffusion of this type of music in Italy?

Unfortunately, the Italian situation regarding the diffusion of new music (deficient even when it comes to well-known composers of the twentieth century) is not good. Generally, music festivals offer little space to new compositions and new composers, perhaps for fear of scaring off audiences mostly accustomed to the “safety” of mainstream music. On the other hand Italy does offer some events dedicated exclusively to contemporary music.

Same fate for the viola?

I wouldn’t say so. In the panorama of the twentieth century, the viola is in excellent health: it now has a rank equal to the violin as a solo instrument. This is thanks to the incredible timbral capabilities of the instrument, which inspired the creation and consolidation of a large solo literature, beginning with the magnum opus of Paul Hindemith, a fundamental figure in the renewal of the compositional horizon for stringed instruments. Moreover, in recent years a high-level viola school has been formed by teachers like Bruno Giuranna and Piero Farulli. Many of their students are now teachers at conservatories (myself included) and are forming good new generations of violists.

What is the program for your recital?

My program is dedicated to the viola as an instrument of great importance to the history of twentieth century western classical music: in addition to the Haas piece, I will perform the Sonata op. 25 No.1 for Viola Sola by Hindemith, and two recent pieces for the viola by Matteo D’Amico and Lucia Ronchetti, composed by playing with and experimenting respectively on a Salve Regina of the seventeenth century, and thematic material by Robert Schumann.

A tip for the young violists participating in the Congress?

Open all of your senses. Listen, assimilate, enjoy all of the opportunities. And be enterprising, come on!

The 43rd International Viola Congress is organized by the Associazione Italiana della Viola, with
Ministero degli Affari Esteri e della Cooperazione Internazionale, Ambasciata d’Austria a Roma, Ambasciata del Belgio, Embassy of Canada, Ambasciata della Repubblica Popolare Cinese in Italia, Ambasciata di Finlandia, Ambasciata del Messico in Italia, Kingdom of the Netherlands, Istituto Polacco.
Patronage and Support
Regione Lombardia.
Patronage and Collaboration
Comune di Cremona, Camera di Commercio di Cremona, Dipartimento di Musicologia e Beni Culturali dell’Università di Pavia.
Fondazione Stauffer, Consolato Generale della Repubblica di Germania a Milano, Fondazione Comunitaria della Provincia di Cremona, Fondazione D’Addario, Jargar, Pirastro.
Museo del Violino, Istituto Superiore di Studi Musicali Claudio Monteverdi, Scuola Internazionale di Liuteria, Consorzio Liutai “Antonio Stradivari” Cremona, Associazione I Filarmonici Onlus, I Virtuosi Italiani, Cremona Summer Festival 2016, Liceo Artistico Statale di Porta Romana di Firenze, Archi magazine, Teatrionline, il mio giornale, Fermata Spettacolo web magazine.

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