In spite of their age, ancient violas such as this one are considered highly desirable by players, and many of the surviving da Salos are used regularly in performance. Several of the known examples of both Zanetto and Peregrino—there may be a total of fewer than ten violas surviving from these two makers—are housed in museums, so it’s quite rare for one to come on the market.
The tone of this particular instrument is fascinating. Owing to its original heavy graduations in the back, particularly in the lower bout, setup of this viola is a tricky matter. Once all of the variables are put right, however, the tone of the instrument takes on a haunting beauty. It does not have the traditional “full-throttle” type of tone, but rather possesses a penetrating sound of infinite complexity. The instrument is slow to respond and requires skill to coax out its best sounds, but the deft violist is well rewarded for the effort.
A handful of Micheli family instruments are in use by musicians, and accessible examples by this family are:
- A Zanetto viol in the Musée Royal of the Brussels Conservatory
- A Zanetto viol and a Peregrino viola in the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota
- Viols attributed to Peregrino in the Musée de la Musique, Paris
- A viola owned by the Chi-Mei Cultural Foundation, Tainan, Taiwan
Also illustrated in this article is an instrument attributed to Peregrino’s father, Zanetto, which is currently in daily use. This is an arched-back, viol-shaped instrument, with characteristically long early corners and sloped shoulders, currently arranged as a viola. The f-hole setting seems obviously positioned for a wider bridge than for a four-stringed instrument, and the proportions of the head imply that some length (and extra pegholes) have been cut off. The outer bouts, upper and lower, have both been cut, so the precise original shape has been lost, but the central area is pristine and very beautiful. There is a considerable amount of well-preserved original varnish, which is very remeniscent of the best of Cremonese varnish from around 1700, both in texture and color!
For more information on the evolution of the viola, see:
- The Early History of the Viol, Ian Woodfield (Cambridge University Press)
- Un corpo alla ricerca dell’anima…Andrea Amatie la nascita del violino, Consorzio Liutai Antonio Stradivari Cremona (Exhibition catalogue of the 2005 Andrea Amati Exhibition in Cremona)
- The History of the Viola, Volume II, Maurice Riley