I have been playing Viola d’amore since early 2006. The websites of the Viola d’Amore Society of America as well as Thomas Georgi’s website provide a lot of background data on the instrument. I saw the instrument at my luthier, Metzler Violins in Los Angeles, and got intrigued.
My instrument was built in France by Paul Hilaire in 1950, and according to the label is his instrument number 36. As far as I understand, Hilaire is mostly known for cellos, some basses, and a very limited number of violins/violas. Supposedly he made two viola d’amore. If anyone has any details, I would gladly hear about it.
It is one with seven playing and seven resonance/sympathetic strings. It is a round-back, with flame f-holes, no rosette, the top and bottom protruding violin-style over the sides, the head as that of a young French country-woman (no wings), and the underside of the pegbox has an oak-leaf design, making it quite pagan. The bridge has a grooved slit for the sympathetic strings, not the more common individual holes. The sympathetic strings are attached with three pull-out buttons, not the more common hooks.
The sound is quite violin-like: very bright and clean, not as deep as some of the older flat-backs to be heard on some CDs.
With a background in regular viola, the transition was/is still a challenge. Particularly the precision of the bow movement due the reduced clearance between the strings and the required twisting of the left elbow to play chords on the lower strings have been quite different.Click on the small thumbnails on the left to see larger images of the instrument.