Just In: Viola by Arthur Richardson

Innovators in luthiery

As a child, I wanted to be an inventor. My career peaked with the invention of the bed switch – a light switch installed right beside my bed by my very patient parents so that I didn’t need to get up to switch off the light. Over time, this interest was superseded by the mild obsession with string instruments for which I am known today; perhaps, however, it explains my great love of those luthiers and archetiers who have brought innovations to the field. Etienne Pajeot and Villaume spring to mind, however today I would like to focus on a viola by a great English innovator, Arthur Richardson.

Arthur Richardson and Lionel Tertis

Arthur Richardson was born in Derbyshire in 1882 but was based in Crediton, Devonshire, for most of his career. He was largely self-taught as a violin maker, making mainly Stradivari model violins very successfully from around 1915. The breakthrough for which he would become known came in 1937, when he met the renowned violist Lionel Tertis for the first time. Tertis had spent his career playing on very large violas, most notably a 1717 Montagnana which measured a massive 17 and 1/8 ‘’, drawn to these instruments by their rich sonority.

The Tertis model

Having retired aged 60, Tertis threw himself into the development a new model for the viola, one which would have all the tonal characteristics of the large instruments which he loved, without the challenges which arise from playing an instrument which is mismatched to one’s stature. The resulting Tertis model instrument, developed in collaboration with Richardson, achieved these goals through a narrow upper bout with dropped shoulders designed to aid ease of movement in the higher registers. The model maximises the volume of the body by balancing this with larger lower bouts and higher ribs.

The viola

Richardson went on to make a great many Tertis model violas during the course of a long and productive career. This week’s instrument is one such viola, made in 1951 and measuring 16 and 3/8 inches. This length of back is probably the most standard of Richardson’s Tertis model violas, roughly corresponding in feel to a 16’’ instrument of conventional model. As intended, the instrument has a big, rich sound with great power to the lower strings, whilst being comfortable to play for extended periods of time. The viola is in excellent condition and is a great example of the work of this talented innovator.

Further details

This Richarsdon viola is now for sale in our Edinburgh shop: please get in touch for more details.

Arthur Richardson viola 1951 bass side

1951 Richardson viola label
Arthur Richardson viola scroll