Bowed, stringed instrument, the bass member of the violin family. Its full name means “little violone”—i.e., “little big viol.” Its proportions resemble those of the violin. Players hold its body between the legs, its weight supported by a metal spike that touches the floor. It has four strings, tuned an octave below those of the viola. The cello was developed in the early 16th century along with the violin and viola; later innovations increased its power. It gradually displaced the bass viola da gamba in the 18th century, especially as a continuo instrument. It has been essential to chamber music ensembles for 250 years. The modern orchestra includes 6 to 12 cellos. In the 19th and 20th centuries it was increasingly used as a solo instrument.
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The name cello is an abbreviation of the Italian violoncello, which means "little violone", referring to the violone ("big viol"), the lowest-pitched instrument of the viol family, the group of string instruments that were superseded by the violin family. Thus, the name carries both an augmentative "-one" ("big") and a diminutive "-cello" ("little"). Cellos are tuned in fifths, starting with C2 (two octaves below middle C) as the lowest string, followed by G2, D3, and A3. It is tuned the same way as the viola, only an octave lower.
The cello is most closely associated with European classical music, and has been described as the closest sounding instrument to the human voice. The instrument is a part of the standard orchestra and is the bass voice of the string quartet, as well as being part of many other chamber groups. A large number of concertos and sonatas have been written for the cello. The instrument is less common in popular music, but is sometimes featured in pop and rock recordings. The cello has also recently appeared in major hip-hop and R & B performances, such as singers Rihanna and Ne-Yo's performance at the American Music Awards. The instrument has also been modified for Indian classical music by Nancy Lesh and Saskia Rao-de Haas.
Among the most famous Baroque works for the cello are J. S. Bach's six unaccompanied Suites. From the Classical era, the two concertos by Joseph Haydn in C major and D major stand out, as do the five sonatas for cello and pianoforte of Beethoven which span the important three periods of his compositional evolution. Romantic era repertoire includes the Schumann Concerto, the Dvořák Concerto and the two sonatas by Brahms. Compositions from the early 20th century include Elgar's Cello Concerto in E minor, unaccompanied cello sonatas by Zoltán Kodály (Op.8), Paul Hindemith (Op.25) and W.H. Squire . The cello's versatility made it popular with composers in the mid- to late twentieth century such as Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Britten, Ligeti and Dutilleux, encouraged by soloists who specialized in contemporary music (such as Siegfried Palm and Mstislav Rostropovich) commissioning from and collaborating with composers.
The top and back are traditionally hand-carved, though less expensive cellos are often machine-produced. The sides, or ribs, are made by heating the wood and bending it around forms. The cello body has a wide top bout, narrow middle formed by two C-bouts, and wide bottom bout, with the bridge and sound holes just below the middle.
The top and back of the cello has decorative border inlay known as purfling. Purfling looks attractive, but is not just for decoration. If a cello is dropped or bumped against something so that damage occurs, the purfling can stop cracks from forming. A crack may form at the rim of the instrument, but will spread no further. Without purfling, cracks can spread up or down the top or back. Playing, traveling and the weather all affect the cello and can increase a crack if purfling is not in place. Less expensive instruments typically have the purfling painted on.
Cello manufacturer Luis & Clark constructs cellos from carbon fiber. Carbon fiber instruments are particularly suitable for outdoor playing because of the strength of the material and its resistance to humidity and temperature fluctuations.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) as well as German luthier G.A. Pfretzschner produced an untold number of aluminum cellos (in addition to aluminum double basses and violins). An advertisement published in N.Y. Music Service catalogue (1930) reads: "...made entirely of aluminum with the exception of the fingerboard. They have many advantages over the wood basses and violoncellos, as they cannot crack, split or warp and are made to last forever ... possessing a tone quality that is deep, resonant and responsive to the utmost degree. Violoncello $150."
The bridge holds the strings above the cello and transfers their vibrations to the top of the instrument and the soundpost inside (see below). The bridge is not glued, but rather held in place by the tension of the strings. The f-holes, named for their shape, are located on either side of the bridge, and allow air to move in and out of the instrument as part of the sound-production process. The f-holes also act as access points to the interior of the cello for repairs or maintenance. Sometimes a small hose containing a water-soaked sponge, called a Dampit, is inserted through the f-holes, and serves as a humidifier.
Traditionally, bows are made from pernambuco or brazilwood. Both come from the same species of tree (Caesalpina echinata), but pernambuco, used for higher-quality bows, is the heartwood of the tree and is darker in color than brazilwood (which is sometimes stained to compensate). Pernambuco is a heavy, resinous wood with great elasticity which makes it an ideal wood for instrument bows.
Bow sticks are also made from carbon-fiber, which is stronger than wood. Inexpensive, low-quality student bows are often made from fiberglass. An average cello bow is 73 cm long (shorter than a violin or viola bow) 3 cm high (from the frog to the stick) and 1.5 cm wide. The frog of a cello bow typically has a rounded corner like that of a viola bow, but is wider. A cello bow is roughly 10 grams heavier than a viola bow, which in turn is roughly 10 g heavier than a violin bow.
The bow hair is horsehair, though synthetic hair in different colors is also available. The hair is coated with rosin by the player to make it grip the strings and cause them to vibrate. Bows need to be re-haired periodically, especially if the hairs break frequently or lose their gripping quality. The hair is kept under tension while playing by a screw which pulls the frog (the part of the bow under the hand) back.
The invention of wire-wound strings (fine wire around a thin gut core), around 1660 in Bologna, allowed for a finer bass sound than was possible with purely gut strings on such a short body. Bolognese makers exploited this new technology to create the cello, a somewhat smaller instrument suitable for solo repertoire due to both the timbre of the instrument and the fact that the smaller size made it easier to play virtuosic passages. This instrument had disadvantages as well, however. The cello's light sound was not as suitable for church and ensemble playing, so it had to be doubled by basses or violones.
Around 1700, Italian players popularized the cello in northern Europe, although the bass violin (basse de violon) continued to be used for another two decades in France. Many existing bass violins were literally cut down in size in order to convert them into cellos according to the smaller pattern cello as developed by Stradivari, who also made a number of old pattern large cello's (the 'Servais'). The bass violin remained the "most used" instrument in England as late as 1740, where the violoncello was still "not common. The sizes, names, and tunings of the cello varied widely by geography and time. The size was not standardized until around 1750.
Despite similarities to the viola da gamba, the cello is actually part of the viola da braccio family, meaning "viol of the arm", which includes, among others, the violin and viola. Though paintings like Bruegel's "The Rustic Wedding" and de Fer in his Epitome Musical suggest that the bass violin had alternate playing positions, these were short-lived and the more practical and ergonomic a gamba position eventually replaced them entirely.
Baroque era cellos differed from the modern instrument in several ways. The neck has a different form and angle which matches the baroque bass-bar and stringing. Modern cellos have an endpin at the bottom to support the instrument (and transmit some of the sound through the floor), while Baroque cellos are held only by the calves of the player. Modern bows curve in and are held at the frog; Baroque bows curve out and are held closer to the bow's point of balance. Modern strings normally have a metal core, although some use a synthetic core; Baroque strings are made of gut, with the G and C strings wire-wound. Modern cellos often have fine-tuners connecting the strings to the tailpiece, which make it much easier to tune the instrument. Overall, the modern instrument has much higher string tension than the Baroque cello, resulting in a louder, more projecting tone, with fewer overtones.
No educational works specifically devoted to the cello existed before the 18th century, and those that do exist contain little value to the performer beyond simple accounts of instrumental technique. The earliest cello manual is Michel Corrette's Méthode, thèorique et pratique pour apprendre en peu de temps le violoncelle dans sa perfection (Paris, 1741).
In English, the terminology for bow direction (down and up) can be misleading. A downbow is drawn to the right of the player, and an upbow to the left. A downbow is drawn by first using the upper arm, then the forearm, then the wrist (turning slightly inward) in order to maintain a straight stroke. An upbow is drawn by moving first the forearm, then the upper arm, then the wrist (pushing slightly upward). The bow is mostly used perpendicular to the string being played. In order to perform string changes the whole arm is either lowered or lifted, with as little wrist movement as possible in order to maintain the angle to the string. However, flexibility of the wrist is necessary when changing the bow direction from up-bow to down-bow and vice versa. For very fast bow movements, the wrist is used to accomplish the horizontal movement of bow. For longer strokes, the arm is used as well as the wrist.
Tone production and volume of sound depend on a combination of several factors. The three most important ones are: bow speed, weight applied to the string, and point of contact of the bow hair with the string. A good player will be capable of a very even tone, and will counter the natural tendency to play with the most force with the part of the bow nearest to the frog or heel, and the least force near the tip. The closer to the bridge the string is bowed, the more projecting and brighter the tone, with the extreme (sul ponticello) producing a metallic, shimmery sound. If bowing closer to the fingerboard (sul tasto), the sound produced will be softer, more mellow, and less defined.
Standard-sized cellos are referred to as "full-size". However, cellos come in smaller (fractional) sizes, from "seven-eighths" and "three-quarter" down to "one-sixteenth" sized cellos (e.g. 7/8, 3/4, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/10, 1/16). The smaller-sized cellos are identical to standard cellos in construction, range, and usage, but are simply 'scaled-down' for the benefit of children and shorter adults. A "half-size" cello is not actually half the size of a "full-size", but only slightly smaller. Many smaller cellists prefer to play a "seven-eighths" cello as the hand stretches in the lower positions are less demanding. Although rare, cellos in sizes larger than four-fourths do exist. Cellists with unusually large hands may play a slightly larger than full-sized cello. Cellos made before approximately 1700 tended to be considerably larger than those made after that date, and than those made and commonly played today. Around 1680, string-making technology made lower pitches on shorter strings possible. The cellos of Stradivari, for example, can be clearly divided into two models, with the style made before 1702 characterized by larger instruments (of which only three examples are extant in their original size and configuration), and the style made during and after 1702, when Stradivari, presumably in response to the "new" type of strings, began making cellos of a smaller size. This later model is the one most commonly used by modern luthiers.
|Approximate dimensions for 4/4 size cello||Average size (cm)||Average size (in)|
|Approximate width horizontally from A peg to C peg ends||16||6 - 5/16|
|Back length excluding half round where neck joins||75.5||29 - 12/16|
|Upper bouts (shoulders)||34||13 - 6/16|
|Lower bouts (hips)||44||17 - 5/16|
|Bridge height||9||3 - 9/16|
|Rib depth at shoulders including edges of front and back||12.5||4 - 15/16|
|Rib depth at hips including edges||12.8||5 - 1/16|
|Distance beneath fingerboard to surface of belly at neck join||2.2||14/16|
|Bridge to back total depth||26.7||10 - 8/16|
|Overall height excluding end pin||121||47 - 10/16|
|End pin unit and spike||5.5||2 - 3/16|
The cellos are a critical part of orchestral music; all symphonic works involve the cello section, and many pieces require cello soli or solos. Much of the time, cellos provide part of the harmony for the orchestra. On many occasions, the cello section will play the melody for a brief period of time, before returning to the harmony. There are also cello concertos, which are orchestral pieces in which a featured, solo cellist is accompanied by an entire orchestra.
In the 20th century, the cello repertoire grew. This was due to the influence of virtuoso cellist Mstislav Rostropovich who inspired, commissioned and/or premiered dozens of new works. Among these, Prokofiev's Symphonia Concertante, Britten's Cello Symphony and the concertos of Shostakovich, Lutosławski and Dutilleux have already become part of the standard repertoire. In addition, Hindemith, Barber, Honegger, Villa-Lobos, Myaskovsky, Walton, Glass, Rodrigo, Arnold, Penderecki and Ligeti also wrote major concertos for other cellists (notably Gregor Piatigorsky, Siegfried Palm and Julian Lloyd Webber).
Finally, there are several unaccompanied pieces for cello, most importantly J.S. Bach's six Unaccompanied Suites for Cello (arguably the most important cello pieces), Zoltán Kodály's Sonata for Solo Cello and Britten's three Unaccompanied Suites for Cello. Other notable examples include Dutilleux' Trois Strophes sur le Nom de Sacher, Berio's Les Mots Sont Allés (both part of a series of twelve compositions for solo cello commissioned by Rostropovich for Swiss conductor Paul Sacher's 70th birthday), Ligeti and Carter's sonatas and Xenakis' Nomos Alpha and Kottos.
In the 1960s, artists such as the Beatles and Cher used the cello in popular music, in songs such as "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)," "Eleanor Rigby" and "Strawberry Fields Forever". In the 1970s, the Electric Light Orchestra enjoyed great commercial success taking inspiration from so-called "Beatlesque" arrangements, adding the cello (and violin) to the standard rock combo line-up and in 1978 the UK based rock band, Colosseum II, collaborated with cellist Julian Lloyd Webber on the recording Variations.
Established non-traditional cello groups include Apocalyptica, a group of Finnish cellists best known for their versions of Metallica songs, Rasputina, a group of two female cellists committed to an intricate cello style intermingled with Gothic music, Von Cello, a cello fronted rock power trio, and Break of Reality who mix elements of classical music with the more modern rock and metal genre. These groups are examples of a style that has become known as cello rock. The crossover string quartet bond also includes a cellist. Silenzium and Vivacello are Russian (Novosibirsk) groups playing rock and metal and having more and more popularity in Siberia.
More recent bands using the cello are Aerosmith, Nirvana, Oasis, Murder by Death, Cursive, and OneRepublic. So-called "chamber pop" artists like Kronos Quartet and Margot and the Nuclear So and So's have also recently made cello common in modern alternative rock. Heavy metal band System of a Down has also made use of the cello's rich sound. The indie rock band The Stiletto Formal are known for using a cello as a major staple of their sound, and the orch-rock group,The Polyphonic Spree, which has pioneered the use of stringed and symphonic instruments, employs the cello in very creative ways for many of their "psycadelic-esque" melodies.
Modern musical theatre pieces like Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years, Duncan Sheik's Spring Awakening, Adam Guettel's Floyd Collins, and Ricky Ian Gordon's My Life with Albertine use small string ensembles (including solo cellos) to a prominent extent.
The cello and the double bass are now also used in some modern Chinese orchestras.
In jazz, bassists Oscar Pettiford and Harry Babasin were among the first to use the cello as a solo instrument; both tuned their instrument in fourths, an octave above the double bass. Fred Katz (who was not a bassist) was one of the first notable jazz cellists to use the instrument's standard tuning and arco technique. Contemporary jazz cellists include Abdul Wadud, Diedre Murray, Ron Carter, Dave Holland, David Darling, Lucio Amanti, Akua Dixon, Ernst Reijseger, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Vincent Courtois, Jean-Charles Capon, and Erik Friedlander.
A luthier is someone who builds or repairs stringed instruments, ranging from guitars to violins. The following luthiers are notable for the cellos they have produced:
Famous cellos include:
SCHUMANN: Cello Concerto in a1. Abendlied for Cello and Strings, op. 85/ 12 (arr. Peter Bruns1). Abendlied for Cello and Piano, op. 85/ 12 (arr. Pablo Casals2)/ VOLKMANN: Cello Concerto in a, op. 33(1). Andante with Variations for 3 Cellos3. 3 Pieces for Cello and Piano2
Sep 01, 2010; SCHUMANN Cello Concerto in a1. Abendlied for Cello and Strings, op. 85/12 (arr. Peter Bruns1). Abendlied for...
VIVALDI: Cello Concertos: in F, RV 412; in b, RV 424; in a, RV 419. Concerto in C for Strings, RV 114. Concerto in g for 2 Violins and Cello, RV 416. Concerto in e for Cello and Bassoon, RV 409. Concerto in d for 2 Violins and Cello, RV 565. Dorilla in tempe: Sinfonia, RV 709. CALDARA Sinfonia No. 12 in a, "La passuine du Gesù Signor nostro." Sinfonia No. 6 in g, "San Elena al Calvario"
Mar 01, 2012; VIVALDI Cello Concertos: in F, RV 412; in b, RV 424; in a, RV 419. Concerto in C for Strings, RV 114. Concerto in g for 2...