The player on the viola da gamba, shown in the engraving, is a reduced copy of an illustration in “The Division Violist,” London, 1659. It shows exactly how the frets were regulated, and how the bow was held. The most popular instruments played with a bow, at that time, were the treble-viol, the tenor-viol, and the bass-viol. It was usual for viol players to have “a chest of viols,” a case containing four or more viols, of different sizes. Thus, Thomas Mace in his directions for the use of the viol, “Musick’s Monument” 1676, remarks, “Your best provision, and most complete, will be a good chest of viols, six in number, viz., two basses, two tenors, and two trebles, all truly and proportionably suited.” The violist, to be properly furnished with his requirements, had therefore 119to supply himself with a larger stock of instruments than the violinist of the present day.
Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) left his home in Fusignano, near Bologna, a young violinist, for an extended concert tour. His gentle, sensitive disposition proving unfitted to cope with the jealousy of Lully, chief violinist in France, and with sundry annoyances in other lands, he returned to Italy and entered the service of Cardinal Ottoboni in Rome. In the private apartments of the prelate there gathered a choice company of music lovers every Monday afternoon to hear his latest compositions. Besides his solos these comprised groups of idealized dance tunes with harmony of mood for their bond of union, and played by two violins, a viola, violoncello and harpsichord. They were the parents of modern Chamber Music, the place of assemblage furnishing the name.
On several occasions after this the organist came to the chapel on purpose to listen to Handel as the latter played, and he was so struck by the boy's genius that he determined to surprise the Duke by letting Handel play His Highness out of chapel. Accordingly, on the following Sunday, when the service was concluded, the organist lifted Handel on to the organ-stool, and desired him to play.
The Duke and his friends had risen to their feet as Handel began to play, but the Duke instantly detected a difference in the playing, and, glancing towards the organ-loft, he was astonished to behold the figure of a child bending over the keys. But as he listened his astonishment became greater, for it was no longer the child's figure that arrested his attention, but the melody which was pouring forth from the instrument. Instead of walking out of the chapel, the Duke remained standing where he had risen, with his gaze riveted upon the child player, and of course the members of the household likewise kept their places. At length, when Handel ceased to play, the Duke turned to those about him with the inquiry: 'Who is that child? Does anybody know his name?' As no one present seemed to know, the organist was sent for to explain matters. After a few words from this official the Duke commanded that Handel should be brought before him. When the boy appeared he patted him on the head, and praised his performance, telling him that he was sure that he would make a good musician.
For some time this secret practising continued without arousing suspicion on the part of the other inmates of the house. One night, however, when the child had resorted to his favourite spot, he was suddenly missed by those below, and, as it was known that he had been sent to bed, some fears were felt as to what could have become of him. The servants were summoned, but could give no account of him; the father was fetched from his study, whither he had retired, and a search began. The alarm increased when it was ascertained that the child was in none of the living-rooms of the house, and it was decided that the garrets and lofts must be searched. Calling for a lantern, the surgeon ascended the stairs leading to the lumber-room; it was possible that the boy might have found his way thither on some childish expedition, and there fallen asleep. Great was the father's surprise, on reaching the top-most landing, to hear faint musical sounds proceeding from behind the closed door. Noiselessly retracing his steps, he summoned the rest of the household, and then, ascending the stairs in a body, they paused outside to listen. Sure enough the old garret was full of melodic sounds! Now near, now far off, they seemed to the listeners to be wafted from another world; there was something uncanny about it, and the maids gazed into each other's faces with a scared expression, as the master softly lifted the latch, and, having peeped into the room, beckoned silently to the rest to follow him.