Instruments for the First Annual Cros s Sound Festival

July 10, 1999, 8 PM at the Northern Lights Church, Juneau, Alaska
and July 11, 3 PM at Chapel by the Lake, University of Southeast, Alaska

 

 

THE BAROQUE CELLO

CLICK CELLO TO LISTEN

differs from the modern cello in several ways. What may be most immediately obvious is that baroque cellos do not use end pegs. Next, the baroque cello uses gut strings rather than steel strings with nylon core which are used on 'modern' instruments. Steel strings were invented in the early 20th century but did not sell well until after World War II. Steel strings have a much more metallic and piercing sound. They are easier to play because it takes less technique to make them sound and they are very durable. Moreover they are not subject to weather fluctuations. Gut strings on the other hand are very temperamental - they go out of tune in humid weather or any kind of less-than-ideal conditions (and even in ideal conditions). They also break easily.

Gut strings take much less tension than do steel strings. This has to do with another general difference between modern and baroque cellos,namely that the necks of modern cellos arch back more and are much thinner than the necks of baroque cellos. The bridge on a baroque cello is also thicker. Both the thinning of the bridge and arching of the neck on modern cellos was designed to help project the sound in larger and larger halls.

Thus finally, baroque cellos have smaller bass bars. A bass bar is aligned from top to bottom on the inside of the cello and serves to spread vibrations from the strings to the bridge to the whole body of the instrument. The longer, bigger bass bars on modern instruments give the bass register a more focused and directed tone which helps to project their sound, but the boominess of the baroque cello is lost. In the baroque era carpets were not as common as now and the inside of the building (especially a church or something with stone walls) was part of the resonating body of the instrument. That is, it was not up to the instrument to project on its own - it had more help from the building.

Thus, almost all the innovations on the cello (which took place around 1800) happened because cellists were trying to project more. As the cello increasingly played a solo role ( and not just the bass line) it needed to project more in the larger halls where sat larger and increasingly public audiences (public concerts, invented in the 18th century really took off in the 19th - before that opera houses, concert halls, etc. . . were smaller and there were not so many bodies to absorb the sound.

ORIGINS (from The Violoncello It's Origin and Construction by Joshua Furman edited by Drcello, May1998) - The name "violoncello" (or cello for short) first became current in the mid-17th century, but bass violins of one kind or another are mentioned in several literary works of even earlier centuries. The cello actually originated in the early 16th century as a member of the violin family. The earliest violins were an amalgam of the features of well-known instruments in common use about 1500: the rebec, the renaissance fiddle and the lira da braccio. It is now well known that the viols were actually not ancestors of the violins in any decisive aspect of construction, tuning or playing technique.

The earliest known makers of instruments that would be recognized today as cellos were Andrea Amati (who died before 1580) of Cremona, Gasparo da Salo (1540-1609) of Brescia and his pupil Giovanni Paolo Maggini (1581-1632). Their cellos were larger than modern cellos (up to 80 cm in length), and survivers have been shortened. Antonio Stradivari was the greatest maker of violoncellos and violins. He lived from 1644 to 1737 and was a student of Nicolo Amati (1596-1684), son of Andrea.

One famous cello made by Andrea Amati, is called "The King." The violoncello has paintings of the arms, devices and mottoes of Charles IX, the king of France. Because of its decorations it is believed to be one of the thirty-eight violoncellos ordered for Charles IX. On the center of the back can be seen the crown over the remaining outline of the coat of arms. The physical characteristics of this violoncello are not much different from the modern day violoncello. This allows us to conclude that violoncellos have not changed much since then. (Elizabeth Cowling, The Cello, (Great Britain: Scribners, 1975), p. 28)

For more information on the cello see the Internet Cello Society

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