chapter  8
26 Pages

‘I will search impossible places’: The future for early English viols

The central aim of this book has been to broaden and deepen understanding of the viol in early modern England. We set out to explain why ‘old English viols’ established such a good reputation throughout the viol-using world. By delineating the context in which these viols were created, we aim to understand the forces that caused them to take the forms they did. Of course, those few old English viols that survive make an important contribution to understanding, but they can be treacherous as informants, so the approach has been to combine information from them with more from multifarious documentary, visual and musical sources. Our study of the repertory for which they were used has identified aspects of their form and capabilities that changed over time, though these changes do not appear clearly in other sorts of evidence. As well as music, the components of context we have examined include the materials from which viols were made, the tools with which the materials were manipulated, images that may represent these viols or could have inspired their makers, and the makers themselves and their relationships with other makers. A crucial intention throughout has been to individuate these viols from later English instruments and from instruments made in other countries. But what emerges is that despite attempting to understand ‘old English viols’ or ‘early English viols’ as a class of instrument, they are in fact far from homogeneous as a type: they are essentially heterogeneous.