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the cello

The music you are now hearing is the sound of a cello as played by one of the great concert virtuoso cellists of our time. Janos Starker is performing the beginning of the first movement of Zoltan Kodaly's Sonata for Unaccompanied Cello, Op. 8. Thrilling, isn't it? It shows you what the cello can do in the hands of a master. It also demonstrates the sonic and expressive range of this wonderful instrument. This is what a cello is supposed to sound  like!

The modern cello, which is pictured at the left, below, also called the violoncello, is a bass musical instrument of the violin group, with four strings, pitched C–G–D–A upward from two octaves below middle C. Its playing range is depicted by the following notation:

Click this notation to hear Starker's cello in action.


During the 17th and 18th centuries the cello replaced the bass viola da gamba as a solo instrument. Also at this time, the combination of cello and harpsichord replaced the basso continuo, the keyboard instrument which usually was given the role of an accompanying instrument because the combination of cello and harpsichord filled out the harmonic texture of a musical group in a more satisfying manner. Gradually, Haydn, Mozart, and later composers gave increased prominence to the cello in instrumental ensembles and parts for the cello became standard.

The cello is a versatile instrument that fits nicely and naturally into many different kinds of music. Notable works for the instrument include Bach's six suites for unaccompanied cello, Beethoven's five sonatas for cello and piano, the concertos of Dvořák and Milhaud, the sonatas of Kodály and Debussy, and the breathtaking Bachianas Brasileiras of Villa-Lobos, written for eight cellos and soprano voice.


At the most basic level, there are two kinds of cellos: acoustic and electronic. The acoustic cello is the traditional one; the electronic cello is a late 20th century development.

A bout is the curved portion above or below a cello's waist. 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 major features of the acoustic cello are shown in the diagram at the right. The body of a typical cello is about 27 or 28 inches long and the instrument as a whole measures about 47 inches from endstopper, also called an end pin, to the tip of the neck.

The cello's body dimensions compare with a typical violin body length of about 14 inches, and it has proportionally deeper ribs and a shorter neck than the violin. These larger dimensions and heavier strings help produce a more resonant, deeper tone and a louder sound. The bridge stands on legs rather than feet, giving it greater height, and the neck is raked back at a sharper angle to allow for the height of the bridge.

The cello is roughly the size of a small man or woman and its weight is considerable, making it quite a load to tote, especially when it is ensconced in a fiberglass or plastic carrying case. Its proportions pose a constant challenge to musicians on their way to or from a performance or on tour. The picture of a cello resting across its case with a bow in it is a sample of how formidable a challenge to mobility this instrument can be, especially to a musician of slight build. The case reaches neck height on most persons.


The classic cello is typically made from wood, although other materials such as carbon fiber or aluminum may be used. A traditional cello has a spruce top, with maple for the back, sides, and neck. Other woods, such as poplar willow, are sometimes used for the back and sides. Less expensive cellos frequently have tops and backs made of laminated wood.

A traditional cello has a spruce top, with maple for the back, sides, and neck. Other woods, such as poplar or willow, are sometimes used for the back and sides. Less expensive cellos frequently have tops and backs made of laminated wood.

Carbon fiber instruments are particularly suitable for outdoor playing because of the strength of the material and its resistance to humidity and temperature changes.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) as well as German luthier G.A. Pfretzschner produced cellos made from aluminum. It was claimed that aluminum cellos offer advantages over the wood basses and violoncellos, since they cannot crack, split or warp and are made to last forever. Further, it was claimed that they had a deep, resonant toe and were responsive.

Wooden cellos and acoustic cellos made from other materials are made by luthiers. Luthiers are highly-skilled craftsmen and, as with the violin, lute-making is a time-honored honored profession. Antonio Stradivari, the renowned maker of some of the world's greatest violins, was also a luthier.

A wooden cello's 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 top and back of a wooden cello has an inlaid border along the rim known as purfling. Purfling is not just for decoration; if a cello suffers and accident and damage occurs, the purfling may stop cracks from forming. Less expensive instruments typically have the purfling painted on.

Cellos are constructed and repaired using hide glue, which is strong but reversible, allowing for disassembly when needed. Tops may be glued on with diluted glue to further enhance the reversibility of a repair. Why does this technique work? theoretically, hide glue is weaker than the body's wood, so as the top or back shrinks side-to-side, the glue holding it will let go, avoiding a running crack.

Other major visible components of the acoustic cello:

  • The carved neck
  • The pegbox or widened end of the neck of a stringed instrument, to which the tuning pegs are fixed.
  • the scroll.
  • The fingerboard.
  • The nut, which is a raised piece of wood where the fingerboard meets the pegbox, which the strings rest on.
  • Four tuning pegs, one for each string.
  • Strings, which have cores made out of gut, metal, or synthetic materials, that are wound with metallic materials like aluminum, titanium and chromium. Cellists may mix different types of strings on their instruments.
  • The f-holes, named for their shape, are located on either side of the bridge. They allow air to move in and out of the cavity as part of the sound-production and amplification process.
  • The tailpiece and endpin on the lower part of the cello, which attaches the strings to the lower end of the cello.
  • The bridge holds the strings above the cello and transfers their vibrations to the top of the instrument and the soundpost inside. The bridge is not glued; it is held in place solely by the tension of the strings.
  • The endpin or spike is made of wood, metal or rigid carbon fiber and supports the cello in playing position.
An interesting sidelight concerning the endpin: In the Baroque period the cello was held between the calves, a rather awkward position, one that tired the thighs and legs. In the 1830s, the Belgian cellist Auguste Adrien Servais introduced the endpin and promoted its use. Today, modern endpins are retractable and adjustable; they permit the cellist to adjust the cello for his comfort and to enhance dexterity.

the bow

Concert musicians consider the bow to be a vital part of their instrument and willingly pay up to thousands of dollars for one that will make an important contribution to their bowing technique and to the sound of their instrument.

The picture at the left shows a bow next to a cello. An average cello bow is about 73 cm long, 3 cm high, and 1.5 cm wide.

Most bows are made from pernambuco or brazilwood. Bows are also made from other materials, such as carbon-fiber, which is stronger than wood, and fiberglass, which is often used to make inexpensive, low-quality student bows. Pernambuco is used for higher-quality bows; it's a heavy, resinous wood with great elasticity, which makes it an ideal wood for this purpose.

Bow hair, which is strung between the two ends of the bow, is traditionally horsehair, although synthetic hair is also used. Its purpose is to cause the strings to vibrate as the bow is drawn across, generating a tone.

The frog is a movable piece at the lower end of the bow by means of which the bow hairs may be slackened or tightened. The frog of a cello bow typically has a rounded corner like that of a viola bow, but is wider. Prior to playing, the musician tightens the bow by turning a screw to pull the frog. This increases the tension of the hair. Rosin is applied by the player to make the hairs sticky so that the strings will readily vibrate. Bows need to be re-haired periodically.

construction and its affect on sound

Cellos were and still are primarily acoustic instruments. The sound that an acoustic cello makes is generated by the physical motion of strings amplified by the natural resonances produced by the cavity formed by the wooden chamber that makes up the body. However, just as with instruments such as the violin, guitar, or piano, the development of electronics in modern times has led to the design and construction of electronic cellos that are implemented in radically different ways and crafted from a variety of manmade or exotic materials.

Non-acoustic cellos are a recent development dating from the last half of the 20th century. Inside they are made up of oscillators that produce electronic waves designed to mimic the sound waves produced by a wooden cello. Before you can hear anything, it must be plugged into an electronic sound system which duplicates the role of the resonant wooden chamber in an acoustic cello.

In theory, an electronic cello can look and sound like its conventional cousin, but usually electronic cellos only come close to the sound made by their acoustic cousins. This is true chiefly for two reasons. Circuits in some electronic cellos cannot faithfully replicate the overtones and other complex sound characteristics of wooden structures; and electronic amplification systems introduce sound distortions of their own. However, when properly implemented, wired versions can have a satisfying tone that is quite like their acoustic cousins. The ear of a professional musician might detect a difference and suffer thereby, but a casual listener or one with a tin ear might find it perfectly acceptable.

There are good reasons for the rise in popularity that electronic cellos are experiencing; they do possess advantages over traditional ones. theyare much cheaper to buy and maintain. they are less susceptible to damage, lighter and smaller, and generally more rugged and stable—not as hard to keep tuned and not as likely to pop strings. These qualities make them good tools for a musician's practice session, good traveling companions for a musician on his way to a gig, and especially good to have in hectic or strenuous popular or rock music entertainment venues. However, nothing can, or probably ever will, match the sound of a first-rate acoustic instrument made of wood and stroked with a fine bow by the hands of an accomplished cellist.

In principle, there's no reason why an electronic cello cannot be built to resemble an acoustic one; many do. But most electronic versions are built with a unique appearance all their own. As a result, one never knows what to expect. Some seem to be deliberately designed to scream out loud that they are not imitations of the real thing. At first sight, one of these strange-seeming electronic devices may induce shock in a surprised audience; its exotic visual appearance may have an entertainment value all its own.

The electronic cellos in the photo at the left illustrate just one of many different cello designs that professional and commercial producers have cooked up. They are intended to shock and amaze. They seem to shout out that they are not slavish copies of a real cello. Judging by their appearance, they could almost be electronic guitars on a bender.

The three views of the electronic cello in the photo at the right illustrate how simple and inexpensivealbeit primitivean electronic cello can be. Miniaturized electronics allow for the use of manmade materials; together, they permit reductions in size, weight, and cost. But the auditory principles at work in an electronic cello are basic, much less complex than those at work in an acoustic model. That very simplicity is exactly what makes the sound of an electronic cello less complex, rich, and rewarding than that of an acoustic version it's also what makes it less expensive and more robust.

The picture at the right, below, gives an idea of how imaginative the physical design of an electronic cello can become, even while its electronic design, and consequently its tone, remains relatively mundane. Bowing technique and other principles of performance can remain similar to those of a conventional cello if the designer so chooses. Notice that the cello's playing position in the photo is similar to what an acoustic cello's would be, except that the electronic device is canted away from the musician, forming a lesser angle with the floor. Oh, and by the way, that's an automobile windshield wiper in the cellist's hand instead of a horsehair bow.

role in music—popular

The 1950s saw the beginnings of the use of the cello in pop music when jazz bass players such as Oscar Pettiford, Ray Brown, and Ron Carter began to take up the instrument. They produced LPs and played in combos like Duke Ellington's orchestra.

In the 1960s, artists such as the Beatles and Cher used the cello in popular music, in songs such as Eleanor Rigby and Strawberry Fields Forever.

In the 1970s, the Electric Light Orchestra enjoyed great commercial success, taking inspiration from so-called Beatlesque arrangements. They added the cello and violin to the standard rock combo line-up. In 1970, Pink Floyd employed a cello solo in their epic instrumental, Atom Heart Mother. Harry Chapin often included a cello in his music and touring bands.

So-called chamber pop artists such as the Kronos Quartet recently have made the cello a common occurrence in modern alternative rock. The cello is also be used in bluegrass and folk music and even appears in some modern Chinese orchestras.

role in music—classical

Most serious classical composers have considered writing music for cello to be a sine qua non.

Especially in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, many composers wrote works for unaccompanied or solo cello. These are works in which no other instrument is involved. Most experts agree that J.S. Bach's six Unaccompanied Suites for Cello are the most important solo cello works ever written. The Sarabande and Prelude from Suite No. 5 are among the most profoundly moving cello performances you will ever hear.

Other noteworthy solo cello pieces include Britten's three Unaccompanied Suites for Cello and works by Ligeti and Carter. Of course, the Kodály cello sonata we heard when this page opened is an example of this kind of piece.

The role of the cello has expanded greatly in importance and scope since the 17th century, when the instrument was invented. In the classical orchestra, the cello section, which is composed of eight to twelve cellists, is a mainstay. Their job is to fill in the cello portions of a score and to work with the other instrument sections to achieve a composer's intended orchestral balance.

The principal, or first chair cellist is the section leader. He or she determines bowings for the section in conjunction with the principals for the other string instruments. A passage for solo cello is written into many orchestral pieces and the first cellist plays these solos.

One especially important kind of classical music is the concerto, a work in which a single instrument is accompanied by an orchestra. A cello concerto is a special kind of concerto, one for solo cello and orchestra.

There are many cello concertos in the classical repertory. For example, Vivaldi wrote 25 orchestral solo pieces in which the orchestra supports and plays in concert with a featured cello. Boccherini, C.P.E. Bach, Haydn, Saint-Saëns, Dvořák, Schumann, Lalo and Elgar all have written one or several of these kinds of pieces, as have Walton, Glass, Rodrigo, Arnold, and Ligeti.

In the Baroque period, composers wrote concertos that featured a cello and one or two other instruments, all accompanied by an orchestra. In this form, the instruments take turns playing alone, with the rest of the orchestra, and with each other.

One very important cello form is the sonata for cello and one or two other instruments in which no orchestra participates. These forms include double and triple cello sonatas, also known as duos and trios. Beethoven's Triple Concerto for cello, violin and piano and Brahms' Double Concerto for cello and violin are a must-hear. The double and triple concerto feature the cello in combination with one or two other instruments. The instruments take turns playing alone, with the rest of the orchestra, and with each other. The sonata for cello and piano is an especially important case in which the cello shines. Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Brahms, Grieg, Rachmaninoff, Debussy, Fauré, Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Britten have all seen fit to write in this form.

In the Classical period, the name trio came to denote a piece of chamber music written for three players. The most important of such trio combinations was the piano trio, a piece written for piano, violin, and cello. Haydn composed 31 piano trios.

Mozart and Beethoven brought the trio form to its perfection. Beethoven gave us the Ghost Trio, Op. 70 and Archduke Trio, Op. 97. In the Romantic period, Schubert continued the tradition with his trios Op.99 and 100. The string trio is usually written for violin, viola, and cello but  Haydn was an exception; he wrote 20 string trios for two violins and cello. Other trio combinations usually include one or more wind instruments, plus one non-wind instrument that can be a cello. Brahms's Op. 114 for clarinet, cello, and piano is an example.

R. Strauss' tone poem, Don Quixote, Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme, and Bloch's Schelomo are examples of works for orchestra and cello that, while not cello concertos per se, amount to concertos because the cello figures prominently throughout.

In the 20th century, the number and variety of works for cello continued to grow. Notable examples: Prokofiev's Symphonia Concertante, Britten's Cello Symphony, and cello concertos by Shostakovich, Dutilleux, Hindemith, Barber, Honegger, Villa-Lobos, and Myaskovsky.

No doubt, classical musicians will continue writing evermore creative and innovative cello works.

  • Explore classical composers who have written works for the cello. Visit the Wikipedia page called Category: Composers for Cello: click here.

classical cello ensembles

The string quartet and the string quintet are two musical forms in which the cello has a fundamental role to play, as it has in the orchestra. A string quartet is a piece of music written for four instruments and played by four musicians; and a string quintet is a piece of music written for five instruments and played by five musicians.

Various combinations of instruments and musicians can be employed in string quartets and quintets, but the cello and the cellist are always among them. A string quartet would not be a string quartet without at least one cello; and a string quintet would not be a string quintet without at least one cello.

  • The most common string quartet is composed of a first violin, second violin, cello, and viola, with the cello positioned in the center. Seen from the audience, the instruments are arranged in a semicircle from left to right in that order.
  • The most common string quintet is composed of a first violin, second violin, cello, viola, and viola, with the cello positioned in the center. Seen from the audience, the instruments are arranged in a semicircle from left to right in that order.

Composers delight in varying the composition of different kinds of instruments in musical ensembles. However, by far the most common combinations of instruments in the string quintet are: 1) two violins, two violas and a cello, and 2) two violins, a viola, and two cellos.

  • When there are two cellos in a quintet, the arrangement is known as a cello quintet and the viola is placed in the middle.
  • When there are two violins in a quintet, the arrangement is known as a viola quintet and the cello is placed in the middle.

The picture on the right shows the makeup of a viola string quintet. The violins are on the audience's left and the violas are on the audience's right.

Mozart's six works for string quintet are considered by some to be his greatest achievement in chamber music. The composer (and virtuoso cellist) Boccherini favored two cellos in place of two violas; he composed 113 quintets for this arrangement as well as a dozen for the more for the conventional arrangement. Only Franz Schubert followed his example, in The Quintet in C.

The piano quintet is another important form of quintet in which a cello is de rigueur. Here, too, we see variations in the instruments that make it up. It usually consists of a piano and a common string quartet. Boccherini wrote a dozen of them. One of the most remarkable and uplifting string quintets, Schubert's incomparable Trout Quintet, is written for piano, violin, viola, cello, and double bass. Flute, oboe, or clarinet, are also sometimes combined with the four strings of a common string quartet to form a quintet. Boccherini composed 18 quintets for flute or oboe and quartet.

Recently, two relatively new cello forms have arrived on the scene. They are the cello quartet and the cello quintet. Contrary to what you might at first think, the cello quartet is not a common string quartet (one violin, two cellos, a viola); neither is the cello quintet a common string quintet (two violins, two cellos, and one viola). The cello quartet is a group of four cellos and the cello quintet is a group of five cellos. In like manner, the cello octet is a group of eight cellos.

Performance technique

To prepare for a performance, the cellist will telescope the cello's spike through the tailpin and clamp it in a position that adjusts the instrument to a comfortable position for his or her height. Because the cello is tall and bulkymuch larger than the violinit is can become ungainly, even when its spike is properly adjusted. As a result, the performer holds the cello between the knees while it rests on its end pin, with the floor supporting the bulk of its weight.

This playing position leaves both arms free and allows the performer's left-hand technique to be more fluid than it otherwise might be. Because of the increased fluidity, the performer can achieve a wider tonal range with his cello than that achieved by any other stringed instrument. As a consequence, a good cellist can command the brilliant solo register of the top A-string with ease, high above the cello's tessitura. See picture at right.

Left hand technique

The fingers of the left hand are responsible for pressing on the stings to cause them to produce the desired sonic effect. The fingers on the left hand control the following tonal characteristics of the instrument:


The position of the left hand fingers along the strings determines the pitch of a note. The closer to the bridge that the string is depressed, the higher in pitch will be the resulting sound because the vibrating string length has been shortened.


Vibrato is a small oscillation in the pitch of a note, usually considered expressive. It is created by a partial rotation of the upper arm at the shoulder joint, which translates into a linear oscillation of the lower arm. Vibrato is a key expressive device, and a well-developed vibrato technique is an essential element of a modern cellist's skill.


There are two types of harmonics: natural and artificial. Natural harmonics only produce notes that are part of the harmonic series for the string on which they occur. Artificial harmonics can produce any notes above middle C.


Glissando is played by sliding the finger up or down the fingerboard without releasing the string, causing the pitch to rise and fall smoothly, without separate, discernible steps.

right hand technique

The fingers of the right hand are responsible for holding and stroking with the bow to make the strings produce the desired sonic effect. The right hand controls duration and character of the notes that are played by drawing the bow across the strings. Bowing takes place roughly halfway between the end of the fingerboard and the bridge in a direction roughly perpendicular to the strings.

Through the action of the bow, the right hand controls the following effects and musical characteristics of the instrument:

Tone production and volume of sound

Bow speed, weight applied to the string, and point of contact of the bow hair with the string are the primary factors which control tone production and volume.

The closer to the bridge the string is bowed, the more projecting and brighter the tone, at the extreme producing a metallic, softly-shining sound. Bowing closer to the fingerboard produces a softer, more mellow, and less defined sound.

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 and the least force near the tip.

Double, triple, and quadruple stops

Double stops are what you hear when two notes are played at the same time. Two strings are fingered simultaneously and the bow is drawn so as to sound them both at once. Triple and quadruple stops may also be played.


Pizzicato is played by plucking directly with the fingers or thumb while the bow is held away from the strings by the rest of the hand or set down. A single string or double, triple, or quadruple strings can be plucked at the same time. Occasionally, a player must bow one string with the right hand and simultaneously pluck another with the left—quite a trick unless you're accomplished.

Col lengo

Col lengo is the technique in which the player uses the wood rather than the hair of the bow on the strings.


Spicatto tones are produced by tapping the strings with short, abrupt, rebounding motions of the bow to generate a percussive, crisp sound. In spiccato playing, strings are not drawn by the bow hair but struck by it while retaining some small amount of horizontal motion.


To produce a staccato effect, the player moves the bow a small distance and stops it on the string, making a short sound, the rest of the composer's written duration taken up by silence.


Legato is the opposite of staccato. Notes are played in a connected, flowing manner, smoothly connected without accents or breaks.

Sul ponticello, sul tasto

Sul ponticello means on the bridge; sul tasto means on the fingerboard. When notes are played sul ponticello, bowing takes place closer to the bridge; when notes are played sul tasto, bowing takes place near the end of the fingerboard.

Ponticello playing produces a harder sound with strong overtone content because more bow weight and slower bow speed are required. Sul tasto playing produces a flute-like sound with more emphasis on the fundamental frequency of the note and softer overtones because less pressure is placed on the string.

Playing technique is a complex set of behaviors requiring years of study and rigorous practice before skill can be achieved. The technique for properly playing the cello is too complicated to explore here in depth. For more information, consult a professional instructor or a book, or visit one of the web sites listed below:

  • CelloProfessor.com is the web site of Jamie Fiste, an associate professor of cello at Central Michigan University who specializes in pedagogy. It's an excellent place to begin if you're interested in learning more and perhaps learning to play. While there, listen to online cello works by Claude Debussy and Paul Hindemith: click here.
  • Visit the web site of the Internet cello society for tips on all aspects of buying, learning, and playing a cello, including technique: click here.
  • The web site called Extended Techniques for Cello by Craig Hultgren gives help with specific, especially challenging cello techniques, including vibrato, harmonics, double stops, and pizzicato: click here.
  • At the philharmonia orchestra web site, discover the cello. Read about composing for the instrument and watch a series of films with cellists David Watkins and Rhydian Shaxon demonstrating cello technique. Learn the differences between bowing on and off the string, how to play pizzicato, and find out what thumb position is: click here.
  • Read a document titled Essential Aspects of Cello Technique: click here.

Legendary Cellists

Tales of remarkable cellists come down to us from previous generations and from prior centuries; there is no shortage of great names deserving of high praise even in modern times.

Below is a list of renowned cellists. Some have earned the right to be called legendary and are now dead; their talents are etched in the historic record. Some have died so recently we are fortunate enough to have recordings of their work to judge them by; or we have reports from parties now alive who once upon a time heard them play in person. Others on the list are alive and performing now; they are candidates still working to earn the title legendary for posterity.

Here are a few of those cellists who, in the opinion of The Muse Of Music, burn brightest and most fiercely, making them the most memorable:

  • Emanual Feuermann
  • Jacqueline du Pré
  • Pablo Casals
  • Mstislav Rostropovich
  • Mischa Maisky
  • Gregor Piatigorsky
  • Janos Starker
  • Raphael Wallfisch
  • Bernard Greenhouse
  • Leonard Rose
  • Pierre Fournier
  • Antonio Janigro
  • Yo-Yo Ma

Arguably, Emanual Feuermann was the finest cellist of the 20th century. Although he was cold in his his personal life, an indefatigable stickler for details, and a perfectionist, he was a masterful cello virtuoso. He was a deeply insightful musical interpreter and sensitive and feeling artist; his music had soul. He innovated much of the new cello style we call modern. His status as a cellist is on a par with Jascha Heifetz' status as a violinist. Indeed, the two of them performed together.

Feuermann is pictured at the right. That cigarette dangling from his lips is a consequence of his participation in an advertising campaign for an American cigarette company. It preceded him everywhere as long as his contract lasted.

There are far too many cellists of worth to name them all here or even to provide biographies of the few cellists named above. The Muse suggests that you visit the following web sites for names, biographies, and pictures:

  • The Cello Site web site offers an extensive list of the names of cellists but no biographies or pictures: click here.
  • The Cello Haven web site offers biographies and photos of a large number of cellists: click here.
  • Wikipedia offers names, biographies, and pictures of cellists at two different pages:

the sound of the cello—the virtuoso cellists

No two cellos sound the same; to the trained ear, the sound of every instrument is unique. The bow and bowing style are key elements that affect sound. The same instrument will register differently in the hands of different musicians.

One cellist's technique, interpretation, and emotional expressiveness will differ from that of another; and these factors can affect the cello's sound. Renditions may vary from piece to piece, performance to performance, ensemble to ensemble, and musical form to musical form. A performance will produce one sound in a studio and another in a hall. Even the presence of an audience and the weather can make a difference.

The sound of the solo cello is, in fact, not a single thing; it's a collective or group phenomenon which spans and is the sum of all of the above factors and more. Literally, there is no single sound that is the sound of the cello. Therefore, in attempting to convey what the solo cello sounds like, The Muse offers the following brief excerpts selected from different pieces, composers, ensembles, and musical forms, and played on different cellos by different masters.

There's so much wonderful music for the cello, it's hard to know where to begin.

Passages have been culled from longer performances. These performances are historic and some of the recording technologies are old. Click cellist names in the list below to hear selections of your choice:

Playing Schumann's Traumerei, Op. 15/7, with orchestra.

Casals was a major force in establishing the cello as a popular solo instrument.

Playing the first few minutes from the fourth movement of Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto in e minor, Op. 85, Sir John Barbirolli conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.

Du Pré performed this work for her professional debut at age 17; she made this recording, which is the benchmark performance for this work, at age 20. She is, and will forever be, identified with Elgar's concerto.

  • Mischa Maisky

    Playing Apres un Reve, from Melodies Op.7, No.1, by Gabriel Faure.

    A warm, warm sound full of romance and feeling.

Playing the closing minutes from the second movement of Antonin Dvorak's Concerto in b minor, Op. 104, Charles Munch conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

One of the most beautiful passages in music.

Playing the opening minutes from the first movement of the Johannes Brahms Concerto in a minor for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra, Op. 102, the so-called Brahms Double Concerto, Bruno Walter conducting the Columbia Symphony Orchestra.

Notice the intricate cello-violin interplay between Fournier and Zino Francescatti, one of the great violinists of the 20th century.

Playing At the Fountain by Davidoff, Franz Rupp, piano.

An unparalleled cello virtuoso.

Playing Dance of the Elves, Op. 39, by David Popper, Alexander Dedyukhin, piano.

Compare the young Rostropovich with the mature Feurermann.

Rostropovich did much to foster the careers of other cellists, to popularize the cello, and to encourage the creation of new cello music in the 20th century.

Playing La Fille aux Cheveaux de Lin by Claude Debussy, Shigeo Neriki, piano.

He's not just for Kodaly.

specific instruments

Some specific cellos have taken on a personality and have a life of their own.

A cello can become famous for a variety of reasons, which include age, the fame of its maker, physical appearance, acoustic properties, use by notable performers, or a combination of these factors.

The most highly prized instruments are now collector's items priced beyond the reach of most musicians. theyare usually owned by an organization or investment group, which loans the instrument to a performer. For example, the Davidov Stradivarius, which is currently in the possession Yo-Yo Ma, is actually owned by a foundation.

About the glossary of musical terms

The Muse Of Music offers an extensive automated glossary of musical terms, many of which pertain to musical instruments. With the help of the Glossary you'll be able to tell the difference between a French horn and an English horn; possibly you'll discover lots of other things you might like to know about instruments and how they fit into the musical repertoire.

ETAF Recommends

With two exceptions, the items shown below are suitable for anyone interested in the cello, whether or not possessing prior musical training.

  1. Winold's Bach's Cello Suites is a world-class study of Bach's J.S. Bach's six Unaccompanied Suites for Cello, probably the greatest and most important solo cello works ever written. The first volume of Winold's study is all prose narrative and requires no training in the cello to understand, although you might find it tough going if you haven't had musical training. It covers the history behind the piece and gives in-depth reviews of each section of Bach's music. Volume II is the score. You may think this is a lot to invest in one piece of music, but oh, what a piece of music it is.
  2. The ABC's of Cello for the Absolute Beginner is intended primarily for anyone, including children, who may not even know how to read music and are interested in learning to play the cello. It's aimed at teachers who want to teach cello as well as at students who want to learn. Even if you don't fit one of these descriptions, you might learn something about music fundamentals by taking a look at it.

The other items are about the world of the cello and the people who are (or were) in it.

The Stradivarius book is a true story about a contemporary luthier who accepts a commission to make a new violin that would equal the Drucker Stradivarius, a famous violin made the genius violin maker, Antonio Stradivari. He visits Stradivari's hometown of Cremona and delves into the secrets behind the 17the century maestro's incomparable sound. It's not precisely about the topic of making cellos, but it is about Stradivarius, who make cellos as brilliantly as he made violins.




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