Internet Cello Society
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My name is Joshua Furman.
I play the cello, and have written the following article about it.
I am 12 years old, and I also play the piano.
I live in Cheltenham township outside of Philadelphia, PA.
I like computers, math, golf and tennis.
I love music!
The violoncello is an instrument that has many variations and predecessors. There were many master makers of the violoncello. This paper will discuss the evolution of instruments leading up to the violoncello, now accepted to be called the cello. The violoncello has been in existence for a long time but it is not the first instrument of its type. The many parts of the violoncello can be divided into three categories. First, are the exterior parts, second, are the interior parts, and third, the fittings. There are more fittings than any other group of parts. The first exterior part is the top, the table, the belly or plate. It is constructed of two pieces of pine or spruce. It is graded in thickness from 3/16 of an inch to 9/64 of an inch. Next, are the sides of the violoncello which are also called ribs. They are six pieces of maple glued to the top and back of the violoncello. They stretch on each side one from the top to the waist, one on the waist and one from the waist to the bottom. The purfling is a triple line of dyed wood along the outer edge of the top and back of the violoncello. The purfling fits into a groove and serves two purposes. It prevents cracking of the wood and it is also decorative. The button is another exterior part. It strengthens the joint between the neck and the back and is sometimes outlined in ebony. There are holes on each side of the violoncello top on the waist (middle). These holes allow sound to escape from the interior of the violoncello. They are called F holes. This is because the shape of the hole looks like the letter F. (Cowling, The Cello, p. 18-19) The Second category of parts are the fittings, or the objects that are placed on the outside of the violoncello. First is the bridge which is made of maple and is not glued but held down by the strings. It is set between the notches of the F holes and has notches on the top of it for the strings. It is custom fitted for the particular violoncello it is going to be placed on so that it fits the contour of the top. The tailpiece is made of ebony, and the lower ends of the strings are attached to it. The tailpiece is held in place by the tail gut which wraps around the plug and attaches to the bottom of the tailpiece. The plug is inserted into a hole at the bottom of the violoncello. The plug serves as a place to insert the end pin and to wrap the tail gut. The end pin is inserted into the plug and its length is adjustable. The end pin rests on the floor and holds the violoncello up for the player. Some end pins are removable and some slide into the violoncello. The neck, peg box and scroll are on the top of the violoncello, they are made from one piece of wood. The finger board is made of ebony and is glued to the neck and provides a surface on which to press the strings with your fingers to vary their length and change the note. The pegs are made of ebony or rosewood and are fitted into the peg box. The strings are wrapped around the pegs and turning the peg can either raise or lower the pitch of the string. The nut is made of ebony and glued to the top of the finger board. It has notches in it for the strings and spaces the strings evenly. The four strings are C, the lowest, G, D, and A, the highest. D and A were originally made of gut and G and C were made of wound gut. These are sometimes replaced by steel or aluminum wound gut which does have as beautiful of a sound. (Cowling, The Cello, p. 18-19) The third category of violoncello parts is the interior. The lining is twelve strips of pine that are glued to the edge of the sides and provide a surface on which to glue the top and back. The sound post is a small cylindrical piece of spruce or pine that fits between the top and back without glue. It is in front of the left foot of the bridge and its function is to transfer sound from the top to the back. (Cowling, The Cello, p. 20-21) The two main instrument families that preceded the violoncello were the viola de braccio and the viola de gamba. In the 1300's, the viols (the viola de gambas and viola de braccios) replaced the vielle as a the main bowed instrument in Europe. In the 18th century, violins replaced the viols because of their larger sound. All viola de gambas were held vertically between the legs hence the name "viola de gamba" or leg viol. A set of viola de gambas consists of six viols: two basses, two tenors and two trebles. The bass viola de gamba was the only instrument in the viola de gamba family with good solo capability but little music survives because it was mainly used in bass accompaniment. Compared to violins, viola de gambas have: sloped rounded shoulders, flatter backs, thinner strings, six strings, flatter bridges, outward curving bows, also and most importantly a fretted finger board. The fretted fingerboard is important because it makes the instrument easier to play. This is because when the player's finger is placed between a fret, the note played is the fret closest to the player's finger towards the bottom of the violoncello's note. Some other instruments in the viola de gamba family were a smaller treble, a double base, the division viol, the lyre viol, and the boryton viol. Another variation is the viola d'amore which has an extra set of strings under the bowed strings which sound along with the bowed strings. The viola de braccio family is the actual predecessor to the current day violin family (violin, viola, violoncello and bass). All viola de braccios were held on the player's arm unlike the violoncello and bass of the modern day violin family. The viola de braccio has bulging, round shoulders, a rounded and full sound, four thick strings, an unfretted finger board and shallow sides. The building and playing of viols reached a high point during the 17th century. Some English composers of viol music of that time period were William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, John Jenkins and John Coperario. (Grolier Electronic Encyclopedia, 1994) There were many makers of the violoncello. They mainly lived in Italy. The first known maker of the violoncello was Andrea Amati who lived from 1511 to 1581 in Cremona, Italy. People believe that he made only six violoncellos, two of which are in the United States of America. About the Amati violoncello in the United States of America which is circa 1569, Cowling states her opinion in The Cello, that, "The neck and scroll is too heavy looking as so a bit ugly ... The body is in remarkably good condition, but the original varnish has some color added over it. It is an undecorated violoncello." (28) The other violoncello made by Amati that is in the United States of America is called "The King." It is one of the most famous violoncellos. The violoncello has paintings of the arms, devices and mottoes of Charles IX, the king of France. This violoncello, because of its decorations 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. (Cowling, The Cello, pg. 28) For two hundred years the Amati family made some of the finest violoncellos in the world. Andrea Amati's sons were as follows: Antonio (1540-?), and Girolamo I (1561-1630) who bore Nicolo (1596-1684) who bore Girolamo II (1649-1740). The sons of Andrea Amati, used the designs made by their father. The two of them worked together and labeled their violoncellos jointly, possibly even after Antonio's death. Nicolo was the best instrument maker of the Amati family. He also taught some of the other great masters of instrument making. Some of Nicolo's students became famous makers on their own. They were his son Girolamo II, Antonio Stradivari, Andrea Guarneri and G. B. Rogeri. (Cowling, The Cello, page 34) Antonio Stradivari was by far the greatest maker of violoncellos and violins. He lived from 1644 to 1737. The knowledge that he was a student of Nicolo Amati comes from a label in a violin that he says he is a pupil of Nicolo. (Cowling, The Cello, page 34) There were many variants on the violoncello. One variation of the violoncello is the violoncello piccolo which is a small violoncello with four or five strings tuned G, D, A, E or C, G, D, A, E. The violoncello alto means a small violin and is most likely a synonym for violoncello piccolo. The violoncello tenor was invented in 1922 by E. Spraenger and was made double the dimensions of a violin. The arpeggione is somewhat like a cousin of the violoncello but because its body is cornerless it looks like a guitar. It has even been called the guitar violoncello. The harmoni cello had five strings and ten metal strings which run underneath but over another finger board. It is not known how this is possible. One other variant is the porta cello. It is a light violoncello with retractable knee supports, a narrow slightly rounded box body and a standard finger board. It was only recommended for schools because it had great faults. For example, the top was so weak that the sound post could break through it. While not a variation in design but rather in how the violoncello was held is the violoncello da spalla. Spalla means shoulder in Italian. When violoncellos were used in marching bands, the instrument was held against the shoulder by a strap that fit through a plug that went in the back of the violoncello. (Cowling, The Cello, page 42) Some changes in the bows have also occurred over the years. In Joseph Roda's book Bows for Musical Instruments of the Violin Family nearly 600 bow makers are mentioned. The earliest bow was a straight stick with horse hair. The bow changed from a straight stick to an inward curved bow much like our modern bow some time before 1747. François Tourte was a French bow maker. He may have been the first to curve the stick by heating it rather than cutting it. He also made a movable frog, the part of the bow at which the hair is attached and the player grips. (Cowling, The Cello, page 66) In conclusion, the violoncello is an instrument with a very interesting and large background. There were many instruments that evolved into the modern day violoncello. There may not be any new evolutions or variation from the violoncello because they are mainly mass produced. Today, not many violoncellos are made by one person or a small family.
Baines, Anthony. Musical Instruments Through The Ages. New York: Walker and Company, 1961. Bragrad, Professor Roger, and Doctor DeHen Ferdinard. Musical Instruments In Art and History. New York: The Viking Press, 1967 (translated: 1968). Cowling, Elizabeth. The Cello. Great Britain: Scribners, 1975. Gammond, Peter. Classical Music. New York: Harmony Books, 1988. Sachs, Curt. History of Musical Instruments. New York: W.W.Norton and Co., 1940. Schwartz, Harry W. The Story of Musical Instruments. New York: Doubleday, Doran and Company Inc., 1939. "Cello", Groliers Electronic Encyclopedia, C.S., Grolier Electronic Publishing Inc., 1993. "Cello", World Book Multimedia Encyclopedia, C.S., World Book Inc., 1995. Stringed Instruments, Groliers Electronic Encyclopedia, C.S., Grolier Electronic Publishing Inc., 1993. "Viol", Groliers Electronic Encyclopedia,C.S., Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc., 1993. "Violoncello". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Vol. 19, 1980, pgs. 856-862.
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This page was created on 10/23/96, as a free service of the Internet Cello Society SITE.