Look, I played Beethoven’s viola

Look, I played Beethoven’s viola


norman lebrecht

May 20, 2019

The PRs are putting round a video of Teng Li, principal violist at the LA Phil, playing the viola that the young Beethoven used from 1786 to 1792.

It’s on a BTHVN world Tour of artefacts from the Beethoven-Haus Bonn.

‘He was a violist!’ says Teng. Amazing how far you can get on that instrument.



  • Blas-Bratsche says:

    Just another deaf violist.
    That’s the reason he went deaf….

    • Blas-Bratsche says:

      Sorry! I meant no offense! I was referring to Beethoven…. bad viola joke. Please forgive me!

      • Blas-Bratsche says:

        I would like to add that I wholeheartedly agree with all of the positive comments AS WELL as the negative reactions my unfortunate comment provoked. Additionally I would like to apologize personally to Ms. Li for unnecessarily injecting negativity into her lovingly created posting.

  • Jk says:

    Wow she sounds like an amateur

    • Ken Olsen says:

      What is wrong with you?! Teng is a fabulous musician and she sounds beautiful in this video! So many nasty trolls on this site.

      • Max Raimi says:

        Bravo, Ken. Yes indeed–lots of sad and angry old men with too much time on their hands on this board.

    • Ms.Melody says:

      She was a principal violist with the Toronto Symphony for a number of years. She is a wonderful orchestra musician and can hold her own as a soloist. Your comment is way out of line

    • Larry W says:

      Jk, you left out the ‘er’ in your name.

  • Max Raimi says:

    Teng Li points out that Beethoven’s hands-on experience as a violist was an important factor in his work. It is without question highly beneficial for composers to have some time in the “boiler room” of the orchestra. Bach was quoted as saying he liked to be “in the middle of things”. Along similar lines, Schumann once urged students to “Sing the middle parts–this makes you musical”.
    Among other great composers who loved to play the viola must be included Schubert, Mozart, and Dvorak. It is an exaggeration, but not much of one, to say that the quality of an orchestral work can be readily discerned by the quality of its viola writing.

    • Jan Kaznowski says:

      Hi there Max,

      I was just yesterday listening to your Havenu Sholem Aleichem variations. I recommend these to all our SD folk :


    • David K. Nelson says:

      It may well be that after the piano, the viola is most often the instrument of choice for composers. Beethoven, Dvorak, Lalo, Frank Bridge, Rebecca Clarke, David Diamond, Allan Pettersson, Tibor Serly, Alan Shulman, and of course Paul Hindemith all played viola for a living at some point. Mozart preferred it to violin but I am not aware he ever had a paid position as a violist. Ditto for Mendelssohn.

      This does not count violists who also liked to do a bit of composing on the side, such as Carleton Cooley, Emanuel Vardi, or Lionel Tertis.

      If we can judge Beethoven’s prowess as a violist on a piece he wrote for himself to play (since I assume he didn’t write it to make himself sound bad), the famous, “Eyeglasses Obligato” duo, he had genuine skill as a string player.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    Incidentally, I’m *NOT* the “Jk” who posted that nasty troll message you guys rightly rebuked. Just unfortunate initials

  • Phillip Rose says:

    This viola has made a previous appearance on this forum.


    Tabea had previously made a CD recording on Beethoven’s viola. I saw it (and the viola) in Beethoven-Haus in 2011 or 2012.