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History of the Viola

In September 2017, the children of Maurice W. Riley transferred the rights from their father’s work “The History of the Viola” to the Primrose International Viola Archive, including permission for the book to be scanned and made available through Internet Archive so that Maurice Riley’s work would be freely available to violists everywhere.

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About Dr. Maurice Winton Riley

Dr. Maurice Winton Riley was born on November 24, 1911 in Kansas City, Missouri. His parents supported his pursuit of music through his high school years in Sterling, Colorado and later at Colorado State Teachers College. Shortly after college he began teaching music at a public school in Harrisburg, Illinois where he met his future wife, Leila. Dr. Riley served his country in the Army Air Corps from 1942 to 1945 during World War II. After the war he was an instrumental music teacher at Roosevelt School located on the campus of Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, MI. He earned Master’s Degrees from Northern Colorado University and the University of Michigan as well as a Ph. D., Musicology, from the University of Michigan, with a doctoral dissertation entitled, “The Teaching of Bowed Instruments from 1511 to 1756”. He was a Professor of Music and subsequently the head of the String Department at Eastern Michigan University. He edited and published “Harold in Italy” for Viola and Piano, composed by Hector Berlioz and Franz Liszt. Dr. Riley authored “The History of the Viola”, Volumes I and II as well as over 730 scholarly articles in prestigious publications worldwide.

David Dalton, Maurice Riley and Franz Zeyringer

David Dalton, Maurice Riley and Franz Zeyringer

Dr. Riley was founding member of the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association serving as President, guest conductor, clinician, adjudicator, 1947-1997, and served in the Ypsilanti Community Concert Association (President, 1968-1970). He was chosen as the Michigan American String Teachers Association Teacher of the Year in 1969. He founded the Viola Research Society in 1972 that would later be known as the American Viola Society. He was member of the International Viola Society (President, 1980-1986) and a founding member of the American String Teacher’s Association serving as President and other positions of rank. Dr. Riley was a private violin and viola teacher with many highly successful students and was the first music teacher for his sons, George, Ben and John, launching their musical careers. Dr. Riley passed away on June 27, 1997 after a long and distinguished career.

As Dr. Riley was working on his dissertation, “The Teaching of Bowed Instruments from 1511 to 1756”. he became aware that the viola historically was considered a secondary instrument. The stepchild status of the viola consequently had produced very little original music for this beautiful instrument and very little was known about its early development, he had said. Thus, Dr. Riley believed his books would fill a large gap in our knowledge of the viola.

“The History of the Viola” was a culmination of eleven years of worldwide research including stops in Scandinavia, Russia, France and England visiting museums, libraries, book stores and archival music collections along with Leila who assigned herself the title of Viola Groupie. It was his desire to keep the books at an affordable rate for students. My brothers (John and Ben Carl) and I are most grateful to Dr. David Day, Curator, Music Special Collections at Brigham Young University, his staff, and Alan deVeritch, world renowned violist and instructor, for their invaluable assistance in making the books available on the World Wide Web where everyone has access to them at no cost.

“Music is a force for morale, and it contributes to the happiness and well-being of the millions who turn to it for enjoyment, relaxation, consolation and spiritual renewal. It should go on, fulfilling its mission”.

……Eleanor Roosevelt

Quotation included by Dr. Riley in the program for the Junior High School Band Concert, March 26, 1942.

George Maurice Riley