October 2016: To tune or not to tune – finding our way through the Scordatura… 

We are working with Scordatura. The word comes from italian and literally means mistuning – we prefer to hear it as an alternative tuning of the instrument.

Changing the tuning of the instrument was mostly used to produce unusual chords, difficult tonalities and to obtain different timbres and special effects. Practically it implies among others the use of unusual fingerings. In scordatura notation, the sounds, and sometimes the fingerings, does not correspond to the notes written in the part.

H. I. F. von Biber was exploring the various possibilities of scordatura in many of his works. In the Partita IV from Harmonia Artificiosa-Ariosain E flat Major, he chose the following scordatura:

The violin tunes the G-string a minor third up, the D- and A-strings a half tone up, the E-string a half tone down. The viola tunes the two lower strings a minor third up, and the two upper strings a half tone up.

This scordatura gives a brilliant and crispy sound, due to the high tension of the instruments. Since the tuning consists of fifths, quarts and octaves, the natural resonance of the instruments is augmented; the sound of both violin and viola comes closer to the viola d’amore and viola da gamba.