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NMM 10830. Viola, Pascal, by David Rivinus, Parrett Mountain, Oregon, 2005. Pellegrina model. Gift of Esther H. and Edward F. Rivinus, Greenbelt, Maryland, 2005.
The novel design of David Rivinus’ Pellegrina model incorporates changes to the traditional viola that allow the instrument to have a large sound chamber while encouraging a playing position that is less likely to injure the musician. In addition to the more obvious changes in the shape of the viola body, the instrument also has a canted fingerboard and tapered sides that minimize strain on the joints, tendons, and ligaments. In order to reduce the weight of the instrument, Rivinus substituted carbon fiber for the traditional ebony of the fingerboard, and balsa—an exceptionally light and strong wood—for the internal construction. While the creation of the Pellegrina model stemmed from the practical needs of injured professional musicians, Rivinus’ love of Surrealist art—especially the work of Salvador Dalí—has inspired the overall stylistic conception of the instrument. The scroll is an abstraction of a coiled belt, while the inlay of the back (which is different on each Pellegrina model) here depicts a flowerpot. Rivinus made this viola, which he named Pascal, especially for the NMM and presented it to the NMM at a special Brown Bag Lunch Program on May 20, 2005. The decoration on the instrument features the South Dakota state flower—the Pasque—painted by the maker himself on the top and back in violin varnish and mineral pigments.
David Rivinus talks about Pascal during its presentation to the NMM on May 20, 2005.
Decoration: abstract inlaid purfling decoration on lower treble bout of top; natural wood-colored pasque flowers and green stems varnished on upper bass bout of top; pufling extends into back to form abstract flower pot, from which natural wood-colored pasque flowers and green stems emerge.
On May 20, 2005, an overflow crowd at a NMM brown bag lunch program was able to hear one of the newest instruments—in more ways than one!—to enter the NMM's collections. Completed only days before the event, it was a Pellegrina viola, created by David Rivinus, a violin-maker working in the Portland, Oregon, area, to provide an ergonomic alternative for viola players who wish to use a large bodied instrument, without the physical strain that comes with playing a traditional viola.
While some of the refinements that Rivinus made are subtle, obvious only to the player, many of the changes are more radical, resulting in a dramatically different look. The unusual appearance once shocked some musicians and concertgoers, but for viola players like Don Ehrlich of the San Francisco Symphony and Liz Soladay of the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra, the Pellegrina saved their careers. Both have logged years of professional playing, and suffer from injuries that make playing a standard viola painful.
That Ehrlich and Soladay are both fond of their Pellegrinas was readily apparent at the brown bag lunch program, where the audience was able to hear an unprecedented trio of Pellegrina violas, the first time that three such instruments are known to have been played together.
The scroll is an abstraction of a coiled belt. The pegs are of pernambuco, custom-made by Eric Meyer, and customized by David Rivinus with two rounded cutouts on each head.
F-holes: C-shaped on treble side; F-shaped and larger on bass side; abstract geometric soundholes on lobes of lower treble and upper bass bouts.
Instrument makers have long struggled to balance the acoustical demands placed on the viola with the practical needs of players. A viola with a proportion between pitch and body size similar to that of the violin would be too long and awkward for most viola players to handle. Some makers have proposed large versions of the viola that can be played in the same manner as a violoncello. One such instrument at the NMM, called the alto violin, was designed by Carleen Hutchins for her New Violin Family. However, learning a completely new technique seems not to appeal to most professional viola players.
The modern science of ergonomics developed out of the military need to improve the safety of equipment during and after World War II. The word, ergonomics, was coined in 1949 by K. F. H. Murrell, a pioneering British researcher in the field. Although many musical instrument makers have attempted to "reform" traditional instruments during the last three centuries, most of the changes were intended to alter or improve the sound or to introduce novel construction materials, rather than to make musical instruments less strenuous to play.
One early exception was an invention by Paul von Jankó, a Hungarian mathematician, engineer, and musician, who developed a piano keyboard in 1882 that reduced the hand stretches required of the player, making it easier to play in all keys. The keyboard was also stepped down toward the player, as is the modern computer keyboard, to produce "less exertion than ordinary pianos." As stated in Jankó's 1887 U.S. patent, "The strong muscles of the arm are utilized to the best advantage . . . in an easy and convenient position." However, the design failed to gain acceptance, pianists being hesitant to learn a new system. A Jankó piano, built by the Decker Brothers in New York about 1895, can be seen at the NMM in the Lewison Gallery.
Paper label, printed, the day and year written in black ink: David Lloyd Rivinus / Parrett Mountain, OR May 5, 2005.
Branded on bridge toward fingerboard: DAVID RIVINUS.
Top: two-piece, quarter-cut spruce: fine grain broadening toward the flanks; maple reinforcements with chamfered corners at bridge feet position, under varnish. Corners (click on links to see corners): front, upper bass corner; front, lower bass corner; front, upper treble corner; back, upper treble corner; back, upper bass corner.
Back: two-piece, quarter-cut maple: medium curl descending slightly from center joint; maple pin through back into top block on treble side of center joint, partially under purfling; maple pin through back into bottom block on bass side of center joint, partially under purfling.
Ribs: quarter-cut maple: narrow curl angled to right on bass side, angled to left on treble side; tapered, the tallest part on the upper bass bout, the shortest on the lower treble bout; rib corners chamfered.
Head and neck: maple: broad curl; open-carved scroll, the upper end angled to treble side.Varnish: medium orange.
Excerpted from: Arian Sheets, "If Salvador Dali Played the Viola . . . Art Meets Ergonomics in a Distinctive New Instrument," National Music Museum Newsletter 32, No. 4 (November 2005), pp. 4-5.