Alessandro Rolla

(April 22, 1757–September 15, 1841)


Alessandro Rolla by Luigi Rados

Where was he born?

Pavia, Italy

Where was he educated?

In Milan at the Milan Cathedral


Who was his primary teacher?

Giovanni Andrea Fioroni, Maestro di cappella at Milan Cathedral

How did he come to the viola?

Rolla made his debut viola performance in 1772 at the age of 15 playing one of his own concerti, and it was said that this performance was “the first viola concerto ever heard.” Of course, this is not entirely true, but viola concerti were rarely, if ever, played during this period. So Rolla may have been one of the first to introduce the viola as a solo instrument.

Where did he work as a professional musician?

In 1782 he was appointed principal viola of the Ducale Orchestra in Parma, where he played both violin and viola. Rolla was then in 1802 appointed orchestra director or “Primo violino, Capo d’orchestra” of La Scala Orchestra in Milan, where he remained for over 30 years. In 1808 he joined the faculty of the Conservatoire of Music in Milan as the violin/viola professor.

Rolla was considered one of the great virtuoso violinists of his time, but he obviously also had a great love for the viola due to the immense amount of music that he wrote for the instrument.

Interesting facts:

Rolla is most famous for being the teacher of the virtuoso Niccolò Paganini, however his contributions to the viola repertoire and development of technique enormously helped to promote the viola as a prominent solo instrument.

Rolla died at the ripe old age of 84, at which time he was still an active performer and composer. During his lifetime Rolla published around 500 compositions, many of which were for the viola. He wrote at least 13 concerti for the viola alone!!

Rolla was born only 15 months after Mozart but died 14 years after Beethoven’s death, which means his lifetime spanned many important changes in classical music, although Rolla’s compositions remained in the classical style throughout his long life.

Links to recordings

Rolla Viola Sonata:


Links to sheet music

IMSLP complete works:


Complete works for solo viola:


All information retrieved from the following websites:



A note from Prof. Ivo-Jan van der Werff:

Alessandro Rolla wrote many wonderful pieces for the viola, including a number of études and étude duos. My personal feeling is that Rolla should be a greater part of the violist’s repertoire. His études are supremely well written for the viola by a player who was primarily a violist, so the required techniques do work. They can be very difficult, often utilizing double stops and advanced bow techniques, but the nice thing about his études is that they are always musical and melodic. It is nice to have the variety of études—from the purely technical, such as Ševčík and Schradieck, moving through Kreutzer to the more “musical” Campagnoli and finally, Rolla. His music offers an excellent training in late classical techniques that lend themselves so well to the Romantic music that was really emerging in his final years. Also, any violist wanting to tackle Paganini might be advised to try Rolla first!

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