Les Voix Humaines. What a treat to hear music in an intimate setting! We were treated to pieces by Marin Marais, Sainte-Colombe, Couperin, Corrette and Lebègue - music which in turn invigorated, inspired, touched the soul and made one smile. This duo has been playing together for more than 25 years and the communication between them and blending of their sound and their musical ideas is perfect.
For the uninitiated, this may look like a cello but there are many differences. Like the better known violin family, viola da gambas come in different sizes. However, the shape is slightly different. All viola da gambas are played held on or between the legs (gamba - leg in Italian). They have frets which can be moved slightly to alter the tuning. They usually have 6 strings, though this is not always the case.. The one above has 6, the one below has 7 - an addition that was made to some French viols to add a lower note. Strings are made of gut, which require more frequent tuning as they are more prone to stretching and slipping than metal strings.
You can see that the bow is held underhanded. Many viola da gambas have beautifully carved heads. Here is a closeup of the head on the top gamba.
It represents Charles I of England (he who lost his head). It is a historic viol made by Barak Norman in the late 1600s. Learn more about the viola da gamba from the site of Les Voix Humaines.