8 July 2020

Justine Marsden and Rosemary Curtin play Bach

The viola rarely gets to go to the ball. It spends its life in the middle of the ensemble, supporting everybody else.

The fairy godmother in this case is Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, one of four composing sons of the mighty Johann Sebastian, and in his brother Carl Philipp Emanuel’s opinion, ‘better than the rest of us together’. Alas, his difficult personality overshadowed his great gifts and he died in poverty. You’d never guess from this piece (and it’s one of his late works, too). Two violas may be an unusual combo but it works perfectly for this bustling, good-humoured music.

Justine and Rosemary both play on A.E. Smith violas. They are the only two Smith playing violists in their section.

Justine's viola was made by A.E. Smith in 1948 for Cliff Gibbs who used it for chamber music and while playing as a member of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra until his retirement in 1984. It was then unplayed for 9 years until he decided to sell it in 1993 through the late Ron Cragg (former Principal Viola of the Sydney Symphony and owner of The Violinery at Lindfield). Justine happened to turn up there at just the right moment. She fell in love with the instrument and decided on the spot to purchase it. To this day it has the original Smith bridge, and tailpiece and pegs. Her viola has only ever been owned and played by Sydney Symphony members; Cliff and Justine.

As for Rosemary's viola? You can read more about its storied history in her deep dive here.

Justine Marsden and Rosemary Curtin play Bach