The viola da gamba retained
the underhand bow technique of the rabab, as well as the left
hand guitar technique. This led to virtuoso playing of solo
music in chordal fashion, known in England as "lyra-viol"
technique, or virtuoso linear playing known as divisions.
The instrument found a large following in amateur circles,
being relatively easy for a beginner. It was the ideal instrument
to play "in family," children playing the smallest
instruments, and adults the larger ones. When you could play
one size you could play them all!
The repertoire for the
viola da gamba is vast, at least 9000 or so solo pieces, and
even more repertoire for ensembles - known as "Consorts".
Many European courts had
viola da gamba players in the 17th and 18th centuries. Charles
I, King of England was reputed to be proficient enough on
the bass viol to contribute a strong voice when playing with
his favorite musicians.
In France the viola da gamba was a favorite among Parisian intellectuals, and was one of Louis XIV's favorite instruments.