The viols were bowed instruments with frets.
They were usually played held downwards on the lap or between the legs (the
name viola da gamba translates to leg viol). The tone is quiet but with a
rather distinctly nasal quality which many think makes it too restrained for
dance music but an ideal instrument for polyphony where the clarity of
texture is so important.
The viol played on the lap was known in Europe
as early as the 11th century, and is pictured in the art of the time. After
the 13th century this style of playing bowed instruments had almost
completely disappeared, only to re-emerge two centuries later as the popular
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