Before the violin, there was the viol. Usually equipped with six strings and held vertically in the player’s lap or between his knees, the viol (or viola da gamba, literally “leg viol”) came in different sizes, shapes, and pitches and found favor with composers of polyphony, who liked its resonant sound and reedy, nasal tone. In England, the viol became a hit after Italian and Flemish musicians introduced it to the court of Henry VIII in the early 16th century. Amateur players were especially fond of it, as portraits of Elizabethan and Jacobean households tell us; in fact, the viol remained popular in the British Isles long after it fell into disuse on the continent. For its season opener, the highly regarded Baroque ensemble the Orpheus Band has compiled a choice selection of English viol music, circa 1650. The centerpiece is the fantasia suite “Winter” from The Seasons by Christopher Simpson, famous during his own lifetime as a great viol player and known to posterity for his authoritative tome The Division Violist. Also included are works by Simpson contemporaries John Jenkins, Matthew Locke, and John Hingston. Orpheus members John Rozendaals, Mary Springfels, and Kevin Mason and guest Wendy Gillespie are among the very best in the viol business. Tonight, 8 PM, chapel, Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, 2122 Sheridan Road, Evanston. Saturday, 8 PM, Bond Chapel, University of Chicago, 1025 E. 58th; 549-2969.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Steven D. Arazmus.