January 27, 2022

A bratch or contraviolin, also known as kontra or bracs, is a special viola (string and string instrument). It is equipped with a flat bridge and three strings, allowing chord playing on three strings at the same time; in this music this instrument has only a rhythmic/harmonic function; melody playing is almost impossible. Playing on two strings at the same time, as is possible on all other string instruments, is also possible on the contra. The instrument is mainly used in Hungarian and Romanian music, as well as in the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia; in short, especially in the historical area of ​​Transylvania. The instrument is also used in gypsy and klezmer music.


The name viola da braccio had been used since the 16th century to designate any bowed instrument that was held in the arm. This in contrast to the viola da gamba, which was kept on its leg. The viola da braccio existed in variants with 3, 4 or 5 strings. The viola da braccio gave rise to the descant viola da braccio and the viola da braccio, each of which had three strings and were tuned in fifths. They didn't have ferrets as was customary before. The descant viola da braccio developed into the modern violin, the viola da braccio developed into the modern viola, each with 4 strings. The viola da braccio originally arose from the medieval arm fiddle.


The kontra can be built new from raw materials, but it is often also a classical viola that has undergone various modifications. For example, the wood is made thinner on various sides, so that it is less stiff in those places and bends more easily – and therefore spreads further in both directions – in order to increase the amplitude and thus the sound volume. The distinctive differences in properties with regard to the strings are also adjusted.


The kontra is often tuned as g-d'-a', that is, the three lowest strings of an ordinary violin. The a'-string is also replaced by a second g-string, which is then tuned as a, a major second above g, so that this string is tuned lower than the middle one. Normally, the strings of a bowed instrument are in an order from lowest to highest.


Like the German Bratsche (meaning viola), the name bratch is derived from the Italian Viola da Braccio or arm violin.

Sound examples

Gyorscsárdás (Mezei Ferenc, Csávás, 1990). Akasztos (Radak Mihály, Kodoba Béla, Magyarpalatka, 1964). “Vastaghúros” gyorscsárdás (Radak Mihály, Kodoba Béla, Magyarpalatka, 1964). Csárdás (Miko Albert, Szek, 1941).

See also

Besides this contraviolin, there are also other 'counter-musical instruments', such as: The more famous double bass. Contra alto clarinet, contra clarinet.

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