20 Interesting Facts About The Cello
The Cello is considered by many to have the closest sound to the human voice. Due to its rich tones, the Cello is used in both classical and popular music. The Cello has been around for more than 450 years. Celebrated composers like Bach, Beethoven, Haydn and Prokofiev have all written famous Cello music, from solo pieces to orchestral arrangements. The Cello is part of the string family, which also consists of the Viola, the Violin and the Double Bass.
1. The first Cello
The first ever Cello was invented in the early 16th century in Italy, a few years after the Violin and Viola were invented. The earliest record of the Cello’s existence dates back to 1535-1536, recorded by Gaudenzio Fenali in Saronno, Italy.
2. The origins of the Cello
Invented in the early 16th century, this huge instrument has a highly versatile history. The Baroque period saw Bach composing solo Cello suites. Haydn, Schumann and Brahms make use of Cellos in concertos in the Classical and Romantic eras. In recent times there has been a rise in solo Cello pieces and soloists frequently play modern pop and rock music.
4. The world’s most expensive Cello
The Duport Stradivarius Cello is the most expensive Cello in the world. It was made by Antoni Stradvaivari in 1711. The Cello, to this day, supposedly bears a mark on it which was made by Napoleon’s boot. Now that’s a claim to fame! 20th century Cello phenomenon, Mstislav Rostropovich played the instrument from 1947, right up until his death in 2007. In 2008, the Duport Stradivarius Cello was bought by the Nippon Music Foundation for a cool $20 million (£15 million).
5. The Cello is complex. It’s made up of…
The Cello is typically made from carved wood, although sometimes alternative materials like carbon fibre or aluminum are used. A traditional Cello is made from a spruce top and a maple back, side and neck. Other woods like polar and willow are sometimes used to construct the Cello’s back and sides.
The Cello’s neck slants backwards so the downward force a Cellist exerts on the bridge is increased, producing the louder sound needed to compete with an orchestra during a concerto. Originally, Cello strings were made out of sheep gut, (charming)! Now, metal strings are more commonly used.
6. The world’s smallest Cello
The world’s smallest Cello is called the Violoncello de Spalla. This instrument is essentially a small Cello, played braced against the shoulder like a Viola or Violin. Mintature Cellos are readily available, measuring in back length at just 6”. Teeny tiny!
7. The world’s largest Cello ensemble
In 1998 a concert was held in Kobe, Japan featuring over 1,000 cellists. This is reckoned to be the largest Cello ensemble ever formed. The musicians performed nine pieces, including Bach’s Suite in D major.
8. The Cello and the orchestra
The Cello is essential to the orchestra. The Cello balances out the loud, high pitch of the Violin section. A Cellist gets to play every part of the orchestra; the melody, harmony and bass line, often all in one piece. Many Cellists have entire careers made out of ensemble work and Cello solos are arguably one of the most stunning in the orchestra.
9. How many strings does the Cello have?
The Cello typically has four strings, C, G, D and A in order of ascending thickness. From the 17th to 18th century, five-string Celli were used in Germany, in Dutch and Flemish areas.
10. Where does the name come from
Believe it or not, ‘Cello’ is actually a nickname. It is the abbreviation of the instrument’s full name, ‘Violoncello’, which means ‘Small large Viol/Violin’ in Italian. This peculiar name explains the Cello’s complicated history of size changes.
11. How many calories an hour does playing the Cello burn?
Although it’s larger, playing the Cello for one hour burns less calories than the Viola and Violin. Annoying, huh? Playing the Cello for one hour will burn 140 calories.
12. The Cello’s bow
Traditionally, Cellos used in orchestras had heavier bows, made up of coarser, black horse hair. Cello’s used for solo playing had a lighter bow, with thinner, white horse hair.
13. The Cello’s tuning
The Cello’s strings are tuned in perfect fifths, similar to the Violin. The Cello’s middle C corresponds to two octaves below middle C on the piano, so many use a piano to tune their Cello! Smart thinking! Each Cello string is an octave lower than the Viola’s four strings.
14. The Cello’s range
The Cello has a range of more than three octaves. The Cello is the tenor voice of the string family and can get down very low in range to a low C. In a string quartet, the Cello forms the bass voice.
15. Vibrato: The Cello’s lasting note
Vibrato is a technique used to intensify long notes, which is also called the ‘close shake’ or ‘tremolo’.
16. The Cello and the BBC Proms
The BBC Proms is one of the world’s largest classical music festivals, dating back to 1895. In 2016 the festival had a special focus on the Cello, featuring some of the instrument’s most talented exponents.
17. Where does the Cello sit in the orchestra?
In most modern orchestras, the Cellists sit immediately to the right of the conductor. This may vary in different orchestras and for certain repertoire, and in some instances the Cellists sit in front of the conductor.
18. Celebrity Cellists
Yo-Yo- Ma and Julian Lloyd-Webber and are famous Cellists who have become household names, thanks to the Cello’s popularity across genres of music. More recently Sheku Kanneh-Mason has revitalised the instrument, particularly with the younger crowd. Other famous Cellists include Leonard Rose (1918-1984) and historically, Pablo Casals (1876-1973).
19. Famous film and TV soundtracks which feature the Cello
The Cello features in the awesome soundtrack to 80’s inspired Netflix hit, ‘Stranger Things’. Nicholas Yee made this medley with eight Cellos. Cellos also carry the main theme of ‘Game of Thrones’! ‘The Lord of the Rings’, ‘Doctor Who’, ‘Pirates of the Carribean’ and ‘The Walking Dead’ are further examples of incredibly famous soundtracks or theme tunes which heavily feature our friend the Cello!
20. Cellos across the world
Since its birth in Europe, the Cello has made its way around the world. Did you know, it is now a fixture in Chinese orchestras? Its unique tone and fluidity makes it a popular instrument, all over the world.
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