The Cello

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The violoncello, often abbreviated “cello,” originated in the early 16th century as a member of the family called “viole de braccio.” The instrument’s size fluctuated considerably during the 16th and 17th centuries. Antonio Stadivari standardized the size around 1710. (Today, young students use smaller cellos to fit.)

The cello is by necessity a seated instrument, and the end pin gives it its unique look. Cellists held their instruments between the legs until the late 19th century, when increased technical demands and those of tone production made the end pin a necessity.

Early on, the instrument was tapped as a double for the left hand of a keyboard instrument. In the Baroque era this unit was known as the “continuo.” During the 18th century, with the rise of virtuosi cellists such as Boccherini, it outgrew this role and is now called upon to fill many functions. In the modern orchestra one finds it performing melodic, accompanimental and solo passages.

As with the other members of the string family, the bow is of vital importance. Even though the cello is larger than the violin and viola, its bow is shorter — for better leverage to vibrate the thicker strings.


Source:The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music, edited by Stanley Sadie. London: Macmillan Press Ltd., [1991] ISBN 0-333-43236-3

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