A Brief Cello History

Cello history begins in the 16th century, when Italian musicians and composers wanted a string intstrument that could play deeper notes. It evolved from the bass violin and inspired the creation of the double bass.

Of Viols and Violins
Viols were Italian stringed instruments that were the forerunners of the violin family. The sound of viols was quite similar to that of violins, and both types of instruments were played with bows. The most striking physical difference between the two groups were the number of strings: viols had six, while violins have four. There are also differences in tuning that affect the range of notes each family of instruments can play.

The proper name for a cello is violincello, which means "little violone" in Italian. The violone was the largest member of the viol family and handled the deepest notes. Cello instruments aren't tuned quite as low as a violone, giving them a frequency range similar to the human voice.

The Cello in Music
Cello making began in Italy sometime during the middle of the 16th century. The instrument allowed for faster play than bulkier, heavier bass violins or violones, and it quickly became a staple of string quartets. In the 17th century, Bolognese cello makers started wrapping wire around the gut strings, allowing the cello to have a deeper sound and more resonance.

Bach and Beethoven were the first to use the cello in large parts of their compositions. From there, the cello became popular among royal families. Andrea Amati was the first known cello maker. He made cellos for Charles IX, the French king. Amati's sons, Girolamo and Antonio, also grew up to be cello makers.

Nicolo Amati, Andrea Amati's grandson, taught the legendary Antonio Stradivari the process of instrument making. Although best known for his violins, Stradivari made cellos as well, and his cellos are worth millions of dollars today.  

When the cello was first made, it did not have a support pin at the bottom. It was added after a cello player carved a stick out of wood to hold the cello while he played. To make the cello easier to play, its size increased in height and width. The size of the cello you see today was standardized by Antonio Stradivari.

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