Violoncello - Violoncello

engl.: cello, ital.: violoncello
classification Chordophon
Tone range Grading scheme
Template: Infobox musical instrument / maintenance / sound sample parameters missing Verwandte Instrumente

Violine, Viola; auch Kontrabass, Viola da gamba

List of cellists
Category: Cellist

The violoncello [pronunciation ˌviolɔn'tʃɛlo ], abbreviated to cello , is a stringed instrument from the viola da braccio family made from different types of wood . The instrument was created after 1535 [1] in northern Italy.

The violoncello is bowed with a bow . In contrast to the violin and viola , the cellist holds the instrument upright (with the neck up) between the legs. Today it usually stands on the floor with an extendable spike.


The violoncello (abbreviation Vc. ) Is usually called cello for short . The cello player is usually called a cellist and only rarely is a violon cellist . The short form is also common in word compositions , e.g. B. Cello concerto ( example ) or cello sonata ( example ).

In musicians' terminology, the plural is cellos or cellos ; According to Duden , the plural form of the violoncellos or cellos is also correct. The word form violoncell (plural violoncelle or violoncells ) is no longer in use today.

Originally the name of the instrument was bass violin , bass violin or small bass violin , [2] French basse de violon or Italian basso di viola da braccio or violone . The diminutive form violoncino appeared only occasionally. In the twelve trio sonatas by the Italian composer Giulio Cesare Arresti from 1665, the diminutive form violoncello appears for the first time , with the same meaning as violoncino . A violoncello is literally a “little violone", Whereby the violone is literally a" large viola ".

Layout and function

Parts and materials

Violoncello in the overview, important parts labeled
Close-up of the body with the bridge and the two f-holes . Above the fingerboard, below the tailpiece with four fine tuners .

Different types of tonewood , which are also used in the construction of violins and violas, are used to build a violoncello . The top of the body and the blocks inside are usually made of spruce wood . For the bottom of the body, the sides , the neck and the pegbox , maple is usually used (rarely another hardwood such as cherry, pear, nut or even poplar).

The strings run from the pegs over the top saddle and the bridge to the tailpiece in the lower third of the body. The fingerboard , pegs and tailpiece are made of ebony , less often of other hardwoods such as boxwood or rosewood . The bridge is a flat, often artistically made wooden plate with notches for the four strings, which is placed in the middle of the body with two feet perpendicular to the body top. Inside the body are the sound post and the bass bar .

The structure of the violoncello largely corresponds to the structure of the violin . Apart from the different dimensions, the main difference is the extendable spike with which the violoncello stands on the floor. It usually consists of metal, more rarely wood or carbon fiber reinforced plastic . The former name Perno [3] for the sting is no longer common today.


The violoncello is made by the violin maker . From a technical point of view, building the cello is very similar to building the violin. The violin maker needs about three times as much time to make a violoncello as it does to make a violin.

At the start of construction, the ceiling and floor consist of solid wooden panels, which are wedge-shaped in section and which are first joined in the middle. The thickness in the middle at least slightly exceeds the height of the later maximum curvature. Only after the outer arch has been completely finished with various tools is the inner arch started.

In contrast to the top and bottom, the frames, which together with the four corner blocks and the top and bottom blocks form the frame rim, are first planed as flat strips to the correct thickness. Then they are bent into the correct shape with steam and pressure on a specially shaped iron (bending iron). The blocks to which the frames are glued serve as a framework. The neck will later be embedded and glued into the upper block.

Dimensions and proportions

Typical dimensions:

  • Corpuslänge: 750–760 mm
  • Frame height: 111 mm
  • Neck length: 255 mm
  • Vibrating string length (scale): 690 mm
  • String diameter: 0.8–2.0 mm
    The string diameter varies depending on the manufacturer and material. It also depends on whether the string is wound with metal or not. With the same material, the diameter of lower strings is larger.
  • Arc length: 710–730 mm

The violoncello roughly corresponds to the shape of the violin and the viola, but has different proportions. While the body of the violoncello is almost twice the length of the violin, the sides are four times the height. This expands the resonance space and compensates for the fact that the cello, measured by its tuning, would actually have to be much larger if one wanted to keep the proportions of the violin. The strings are tuned a duodecime lower than those of the violin or an octave lower than those of the viola. Correspondingly enlarged, the body would have been three times the length of a violin body, resulting in an instrument the dimensions of the double basswould lead. The high ribs have the effect that certain partials, especially the 1st overtone , are amplified in the sound spectrum . This creates the cello's characteristic warm timbre.

Furthermore, the cello has a different scale ratio - the term describes the distance between the saddle and the upper edge of the top in relation to the distance between the edge of the top and the bridge - than the violin: while the scale ratio of the violin is 2: 3, the cello is 7:10 slightly larger. The total distance between saddle and bridge and thus the length of the vibrating string is called the scale length. The scale lengths vary more on the violoncello than on the violin, but are less variable than on the viola.

Strings and tuning

Today the violoncello is strung with four strings with a fifth spacing, which are empty, that is, unhandled, tuned to the pitch CGda, an octave lower than that of the viola . Slogans for the basic tuning are " a ch d u G roßes C ello" or, starting with the lowest string, " C ello G eht d och a uch".

The following table shows the frequencies of the four strings in Hertz (Hz), depending on two common pitches of the concert pitch a ′ and for the case of the pure tuning of the strings.

Link Note Science
Frequency at
a ′ = 443 Hz
Frequency at
a ′ = 442 Hz
1 (highest string)
A 3
221,50 Hz
221,00 Hz
D 3
147,67 Hz
147,33 Hz
98,44 Hz
98,22 Hz
4 (lowest string)
65,63 Hz
65,48 Hz

Audio file / audio sample Sound example: The four strings of the violoncello ? / i

The core of the strings is usually made of steel , tungsten , nylon or gut . They are usually wound with a fine wire made of silver , aluminum or copper, for example .

Sound generation


In the cello, as in all string instruments, the sound is created by the vibration of the strings. They are usually set in motion by painting with a bow , but they can also be plucked with the fingers ( pizzicato ).

The bridge transfers the vibrations of the strings to the top of the body, the sound post forwards them between top and back. The entire body acts as a resonance body that amplifies the sound. It makes the air vibrate and radiates the sound both outside and inside the body. The two lateral sound holes (f-holes) on the top of the cabinet primarily increase the mobility and resonance of the top. Sound from the inside also penetrates through the f-holes, but its share in the overall volume of the instrument is low.

Depressing the string with a finger of the left hand can shorten its vibrating part. This causes a higher oscillation frequency and thus a change in pitch. There are no frets on the fingerboard like the gamba. The cellist must therefore precisely hit the right spot on the fingerboard; he has to train his posture and movement memory extensively, especially since he cannot visually control the grip of the strings. A well-trained hearing helps.


Tone range

The pitch range extends (in easily playable positions) from the capital C to the three-stroke g (g '' ') and thus covers more than four octaves ; even the four-dashed a (a '' '') is achieved as a harmonics tone. The tones of the male voice ( bass and tenor ) are characteristic of the cello . However, it reaches a greater depth than a human bass voice and its height exceeds the usual range of a soprano . It sounds “dark and powerful in the depth, velvety lyrical in the tenor register; in the higher regions it enchants with its radiant brilliance ”. [4] Unlike on the piano, the harp and the organ , which have an even larger range, the cellist can also use the bow and vibrato to individually shape each not too short note.

Due to its rich palette of registers and sound qualities, the cello is one of the most versatile instruments. It is used:

  • As a bass instrument in baroque music ( basso continuo ), often doubled by the double bass , which plays the same bass line an octave lower
  • as a bass instrument in chamber music (string and piano trio , quartet, quintet)
  • As a bass instrument in the baroque and classical-romantic orchestra, seconded in the 16 'position by the double bass
  • as a solo instrument, mostly with a focus on the higher sound registers (solo literature, chamber music, solo instrumental concerts)

Acoustic properties

From a physical and acoustic point of view, the sound of a musical instrument is mainly determined by the partial tone or overtone structure , the formant distribution ( frequency ranges in which the partial tones emerge regardless of the position of the fundamental tone ), the swing in and out, noise components and dynamics . Structurally, these properties are heavily dependent on the material properties, the construction and even on the individual playing technique, which is why only approximate statements are possible.

Similar to the violin, the violoncello has a very irregular partial structure and pronounced formant areas due to the complex resonance properties of the resonance body. The cantilever character often ascribed to him is partly based on this . The fundamental tones of the lowest tones are very weak compared to the partials and are about 15 decibels (dB) below the strongest overtones. Even above 3000 Hertz(Hz) the partials, which can reach up to about 8000 Hz, are relatively weak. Characteristic formant areas of the violoncello are 230 Hz, between 300 and 500 Hz and between 600 and 900 Hz. A typical characteristic of the cello sound is a formant dip between 1000 and 1200 Hz, in an area in which the violin has its strongest formants. That is one of the reasons for the different sound characteristics of the two instruments. Instruments that have a formant between 2000 and 3000 Hz are characterized by a bright sound. When playing on the A-string, some instruments have a formant around 1500 Hz, which makes the instrument sound somewhat in the direction of the viola (which often has a formant at around 1600 Hz).

The settling time of the violoncello is around 60 to 100 milliseconds (violin 30–60 ms, double bass 100–500 ms). However, it can be extended to 300 ms by means of appropriate bow guidance, which results in a softer sound. Since the basic tone responds later than the partials, the sound can become a bit "pointed" with fast tone sequences. The slightly longer settling time compared to the violin corresponds to a longer decay. The settling time is analogous to the noise component in this time segment. Further (desired) noise components after the oscillation process arise when the bow is struck on the string.

The dynamic range of the string instruments is about 10 dB below that of the woodwinds. The violoncello covers approximately a dynamic range of 35 dB and is thus just above the violin with 30 dB.

The directional characteristic of the cello sound, which is only important at close range (e.g. when recording a microphone ), differs from the other string instruments in that it is preferably divided into two zones (to the floor and vertically upwards) between 2000 and 5000 Hz .

Playing technique

Jewish wedding in the 18th century

Today the cello is almost exclusively played while sitting. It is stabilized at four points: with the spike on the floor, with the frames on the inside of the knees, with the upper end of the body on the sternum. It is inclined slightly so that the neck with the fingerboard is above the left shoulder and the player can sit upright. The left hand grips the pitches on the strings, the right hand guides the bow . As early as the 16th to the 18th centuries, some musicians played the cello while standing, with the instrument having to be supported on a stool. When moving about, people played while walking and the instrument was held on the body by a strap. In the 20th century, the Arnold Cello Stand becamethat allows playing while standing. [5]

The right hand

Hand position when guiding the bow

In the early days of the violoncello, the bow was still very often played in the underhand grip (as can be seen on the viols and as can also be seen in the graphic of the Jewish wedding on the right), the overhand grip (as has long been common with the violin and viola) prevailed in the High Baroque . But Charles Burney still reports from his Italian trip in 1770 that “violon players hold the bow the old way, with their hand on their hair and their thumbs on the wood, as happens with the viola player”. [6] Even in July 1800 there is luxury and fashions in the Weimar Journalto read a travelogue from Vienna, in which it is noted: "Mr. Albrechtsberger himself plays the violoncello with a delicacy and precision, which one admires all the more because he bows like the violin player." [7]

The bowing plays an important role: it determines volume , timbre , articulation and rhythm . The sheet is alternately pulled to the right ( downstroke ) and pushed to the left (upstroke). For reasons of sound and playing technique, the downstroke is used more for accentuated bar parts, the upstroke for unstressed parts, especially for upbeats . This has been true since the baroque. However, the tonal differences between downstroke and upstroke are minimal when playing with a modern instrument and bow.

If the cellist plays several notes with the same downstroke or upstroke, they sound connected ( legato ). The game of constantly changing slurs between all notes is called détaché . Very short notes ( staccato ) are heard when the cellist only plucks the string with the bow. There are also other line types . Plucking the strings with your fingers ( pizzicato ) enables additional sound effects.

The cellist must have pressure, speed and line point (distance of the contact point from the bridge) of the bow under control. This requires subtle coordination between arm, hand and fingers. The power transmission from the arm to the arch occurs through pronationof the forearm, whereby the index finger exerts pressure on the bow bar. The thumb, which is supported on the edge of the frog, provides the necessary counter-pressure. The little finger is used to control the tilt angle of the bow hairs to the string and the balance of the bow when lifting the bow from the string. Until the 1930s, the axis of the bow hand was often held horizontally; Nowadays, a flexible position of the palm of the hand is preferred: when changing to the smear, slightly turned inwards (supination), when switching to the upstroke slightly outwards (pronation), this is biomechanically more favorable.

The left hand

Ernst Reijseger at the Moers Festival, 2007

Application and positions (layers)

The pitch of any string can be changed by shortening its vibrating length. The shorter the vibrating string, the higher the frequency and thus the pitch. This is done by placing any finger at the desired point on the string. With percussion refers to the soft to harder stop the finger on the fretboard. It speeds up the response and supports the clarity of the articulation.

  • Four-finger positions: In the first position , the first finger (index finger) joins the very top of the fingerboard a whole tone above the pitch of the open string. The remaining fingers are usually half-tone apart (narrow grip), so that the fourth (little) finger reaches the fourth of the string root, on the C string it is F. The second possibility is the "wide grip", with a splay of the index finger, between the first and second finger there is a whole step. Each following position advances the hand one step in the diatonic scale. With the first finger a fifth above the fundamental note of the string, the fourth position is reached.
  • Three-finger positions: From the fifth to the seventh position, the thumb usually remains in the throat as a stabilizing counter-bearing. Because of the greater extension of the forearm, the fourth finger is rarely used here. Also due to the decreasing distances between the finger touchdown points, semitone or whole tone steps are now possible between all fingers.
  • Thumb positions: The thumb can also be used to grasp notes (thumb attachment, thumb position), usually from the 7th position. Only the arm position and the seconds between thumb and first finger serve as orientation.

Shift: changes the position of the entire left hand on the fingerboard. The position also determines the sound design of a piece, as the same tone (played on different strings) has different partial tone structures (timbres)

Double handles

Double stops are common on the violoncello as on all string instruments. The bow strikes two adjacent strings at the same time, and the left hand grabs notes on one or both strings. Three and four notes can only be played relatively loudly or one after the other as an arpeggio . A rare exception would be the use of a round arch .


With vibrato , the finger sway periodically around its touchdown point without leaving it. The resulting fluctuations in pitch enliven the tone.


The flageolet is created by gently placing a finger on a junction of the harmonic partials of the string. This creates a soft and delicate sounding, high tone. These harmonics are called the so-called "natural" harmonics , as they always refer to the corresponding open string and the natural overtonesof the respective string. The harmonics played on the A string at the position of e 'correspond exactly to the pitch of an e' '(one octave higher), whereas a harmonet played on d' corresponds to a '', that of the open string two octaves higher. The natural overtone series allows natural flageolets in the following order (starting from the previous tone): octave - fifth - fourth - major third - minor third. Many of the other partial tones that can still be produced on the cello show intonation deviations from the pure and the equalMood on. Identical flageolets can be played both in the direction of the bridge (high position) and in the direction of the saddle (low position). Prime examples of natural flageolets in the cello are Shostakovich, Cello Sonata op. 40 / 2nd movement from bars 76/112 or the end of the second movement of Maurice Ravel's Piano Trio.

In contrast to the natural harmonics are the so-called "artificial" ones. The open string is replaced by a firmly gripped tone (usually with the first finger or thumb) and another finger is gently placed (usually in the fourth or third interval). This allows the harmonics to be played in any order and pitch (examples: Shostakovich piano trio, 1st movement, 1st cello concerto, 2nd movement, MessiaenQuatuor pour la fin du temps, 1st movement.). A professional must master these techniques, especially knowledge of the positions of the corresponding flageolets. In many cases, unfavorably notated flageolets (especially third-octave flageolets in low registers, which rarely respond well) can be replaced by corresponding, more playable fourth flageolets. For example, a third flageolet a-c sharp notated on the G string, executed as a fourth flageolet c sharp-f sharp, produces the same pitch, but with less risk. Another aspect of playing the flageolet concerns the position of the bow between the fingerboard and the bridge. It is often wrongly advised to play close to the bridge, especially in the case of artificial flageolets. This is only partially correct: the best effect is achieved

Origin and structural developments

Angels making music with a small bass violin (1535–1536)
Five-string bass violin with spike ( Syntagma Musicum )

The cello is the bass of the viola da braccio family, a genre of string instruments that developed parallel to the viols in the 15th and 16th centuries . Today's violins and violas also belong to this family. All of these instruments had three or four strings tuned in fifths.

From around the middle of the 16th century, four strings were common. Typical tunings for the bass instrument were Fcg, B¹-Fcg and CGda. According to Michel Corrette, the mood from the B¹ lasted in France and England until around 1715–1720, in Bologna until 1700 the mood CGdg was common. From around 1730, the fifths tuning dominated on the C note throughout Europe.

Sometimes the early bass violins were carried in processions . In the bottom of old instruments you can sometimes find two small holes near the neck, through which a string was probably pulled and then tied around the shoulder with a shoulder strap. This made it possible for the musicians to play while standing and running.

Well-known violin makers of the 16th century who made such instruments include Andrea Amati (approx. 1505–1577), Gasparo da Salo (1540–1609) and Giovanni Paolo Maggini (1581–1632). In the 17th century, Antonio Stradivari (around 1644–1737) should be emphasized, who made the sound body a little smaller and thus established the dimensions that are still valid today, but also for example Domenico Montagnana and Matteo Goffriller .

Unknown painter (approx. 1764–1767), portrait of Luigi Boccherini with a violoncello, still without a spike.

In addition to the conventional four-strings, five-string models were also created in the early days of the cello around 1700. Michael Praetorius already knew a five-string bass violin de bracio in the tuning F 1 -CGda in 1619. [8] Many contemporary paintings feature “cellos” with a fifth string. One such instrument from Ghent, dated 1717, is in the Musée Instrumental, Brussels . Also JS Bach composed his Sixth Suite for cello solo D major (BWV 1012) voted for a violoncello with a fifth string, at e '. Such instruments are used today as the violoncello piccolo called, a term that is historically questionable.

Unlike the gamba, some cellos received a spike on the underside of the body shortly after 1600. The sting was increasingly used in the orchestra from around 1820; However, soloists often played "sting-free" until around 1850. The sting runs through a wooden pear that is embedded in the lower block. From around 1860, the use of a locking screw for the sting prevailed. The reason for this structural change was the more frequent use of vibrato and high registers.

The size of the cellos was not uniform in the Baroque. There were instruments in several sizes that corresponded to the bass, baritone and tenor registers. The smaller cellos were often tuned a fourth or fifth higher. [9] Some of the early instruments were fretted. Johann Joachim Quantz mentions this practice in his experiment . [10]

A special design are Reisecelli, instruments that can be dismantled, in which the body sometimes served as a transport container for the dismantled parts of the instrument and the bow. [11] Such instruments were various occasions by soldiers in the trenches of the First World War played and are therefore also partly than today Trench Celli ( trench Celli known), [12] [13] along with instruments that were built directly on the front . [14]

Use in music


The used clef is the first of the bass clef . High passages are also notated in the tenor clef or treble clef. In older sheet music editions, for example, in Dvořák , Beethoven , Bruckner, there is also a notation in the downward octaving treble clef. This is usually the case when the tenor clef is not used at all. In editions that use the tenor clef for medium-high passages, the treble clef is almost never to be understood as an octave.

In scores , the cello part is notated below the part of the double bass . If this is missing, it takes the lowest place.

Solo use

17th century

The introduction of the winding of the lower strings with metal wire in the second half of the 17th century made it possible to make the previously larger bass violins smaller and still sound sufficiently loud and clear in the lower registers. This gave rise to the cello, which up until the end of the 18th century played the important role of a “ figured bass ” instrument (together with harpsichord, organ or lute). The melody was initially incumbent on high instruments or voices, for example in violin sonatas, flute sonatas , arias , etc. However, after 1600 there were also solo compositions (sonatas, canzoni, suites) for low instruments, many for the viola da gamba, the larger bass violin or the dulcian, less for the violoncello.

The violoncello was first mentioned as a solo instrument in 1665 in the Sonata a due ea tre con la parte di violoncello a beneplacito op. 4 by Giulio Cesare Arresti . The first solo music for the cello was written at the end of the century in Bologna and Modena . The cellists Domenico Gabrielli (1689), Domenico Galli (1691), Giuseppe Maria Jacchini (1692) and Antonio Maria Bononcini (1693) were the first to consider their instrument with compositions.

18th century

The type of solo instrumental concert was decisively shaped by Antonio Vivaldi . 27 cello concertos by him have survived. Above all he introduced the three movements (fast-slow-fast) and the ritornello form as a common method of composition. The latter characterizes almost all the first movements of his solo concerts and mostly also the last movement. Johann Sebastian Bach , who took an active part in the instrumental developments of his time, dedicated the six important suites for solo cello (BWV 1007-1012) to the cello around 1720 .

Haydn's cello concertos are part of the standard repertoire today.

From that time on the violoncello gradually prevailed over the viol and gained its own musical meaning beyond the figured bass . The viol soon became completely out of use. Around 1750 there was a lively bourgeois music culture outside of the church and court. Compositions were often only performed once; the audience was primarily interested in new things. The works of the numerous composers were often unable to achieve greater and longer-term awareness.

But some things have survived, such as the more than 40 cello sonatas that Luigi Boccherini (1743–1805) composed. He is also known to have performed twelve violoncello concertos. With their melodic brilliance and their technical brilliance they also stand out among the cello concertos of other Italian musicians from the last third of the 18th century (including Giovanni Battista Cirri , Luigi Borghi , Domenico Lanzetti ). The two cello concertos by Joseph Haydn in C major (around 1762–1765) and D major (1783) are among the most frequently performed works today.

From around 1770, the violoncello established itself in the emerging forms of chamber music. In the string quartet , the piano trio and occupations derived (quintet, -sextett etc.), it has since been regularly represented.

The sonata type for a melody instrument and piano, which we now call “classical”, was developed further by Ludwig van Beethoven in particular . Based on the model of his five important “Sonatas for Piano and Cello”, composers created over 150 sonatas in the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century.

19th century

Camille Saint-Saëns wrote many well-known works for violoncello.

The majority of the important composers of the 19th century dedicated themselves primarily to the violin and piano as concertante instruments. Nevertheless, there are a number of compositions for violoncello and orchestra that still occupy an undisputed place in the concert repertoire today. These include above all the cello concertos by Robert Schumann , Camille Saint-Saëns and Antonín Dvořák as well as the rococo variations by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky . Beethoven also has a " Triple Concerto for piano, violin and violoncello".

Johannes Brahms composed two “Sonatas for Violoncello and Piano” as well as a “Double Concerto for Violin and Violoncello”, which was inspired by Beethoven's Triple Concerto. The third movement of his 2nd piano concerto is also dominated by a solo cello, although this is not placed outside the orchestra and mentioned separately, although the piano and the rest of the orchestra tend to take on accompanying tasks in this movement.

Camille Saint-Saëns also wrote two cello sonatas. The cello also appears in its orchestral suite Le carnaval des animaux: fantaisie zoologique as Le cygne , the swan.

The group of important violoncello composers also includes Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy , Édouard Lalo , Eugen d'Albert , Edward Elgar as well as Max Bruch and Ferdinand Thieriot .

20th century

The violoncello received a lot of thought from the composers of the 20th century as a solo instrument. Many compositions, which encompass it in all its diversity, were inspired by the great virtuosos of this century and are dedicated to them.

Above all, Pau Casals (often: Pablo Casals) and Emanuel Feuermann , Mstislaw Rostropowitsch , Pierre Fournier , Jacqueline du Pré , Yo-Yo Ma , Mischa Maisky , Gregor Piatigorsky and, especially as an interpreter of contemporary music, Siegfried Palm should be mentioned. Dmitri Shostakovich wrote two concertos for Rostropovich ; there are also concerts and other solo works by Kalevi Aho , Henri Dutilleux , Giorgio Federico Ghedini , György Ligeti ,Witold Lutosławski , Krzysztof Penderecki , Sergei Prokofjew , Bernd Alois Zimmermann and Firəngiz Əlizadə , some of which were composed for Palm. The Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů wrote two cello concertos and numerous sonatas for violoncello. The twelve-tone technique in violoncello compositions was used by Ernst Krenek and Hans Werner Henze , among others .

In the 20th century people began to experiment with cello music. Technical innovations made it possible to save the music on sound carriers , which could be electronically changed and edited. In the 20th century, for example, composers dealt with the violoncello in conjunction with electronics and tape , but also with electrically amplified cellos and similar innovations. A large number of technical enhancements were for example in Helmut Lachenmann's piece Pression for a cellistcomposed. The previously unusual playing techniques such as bowing with overpressure behind the bridge or on the tailpiece, knocking and rubbing with the fingers on the top of the body, bowing the strings from below or flageolet - glissandi produce a wide range of sounds with a high level of noise. The works ONE8 by John Cage and With these hands by Dieter Schnebel were created with the collaboration of cellist Michael Bach and incorporate polyphonic sounds that are generated with the round arch .

In the orchestra

Although JS Bach demonstrated the virtuosity of cello playing with the “Six Suites for Solo Cello” around 1720, the cellos in the orchestra did not get beyond their function in the bass leadership in the following years. In the scores, the cellos were often not mentioned by name at all, but combined with the double basses and other instruments in the lowest notation system as bassi .

Even after the replacement of the thoroughbass in the early classical period , nothing changed in the Viennese classical period in terms of the bass role of the cellos in the orchestra. However, even Joseph Haydn temporarily separated the cellos from the double basses in his symphonies and composed his own parts for them. Ludwig van Beethoven continued this idea and entrusted the violoncellos with the melody, for example at the beginning of his 3rd symphony or in the 2nd movement of his 5th symphony , in which the cellos intro the first theme in unison with the violas.

Ludwig van Beethoven emancipated the cellos in the orchestra

The writer and music critic ETA Hoffmann (1776–1822) commented in 1812 in his review of Beethoven's Coriolan overture about the new role of the cellos in the orchestra:

“For some years now, the cello has been a newly acquired instrument for the orchestra: otherwise one would never have thought of making it absolutely obligatory, except for the basic bass. In this overture, too, it rarely goes 'col Basso', but has its own figures, some of which are difficult to perform. Rec. [The reviewer] admits that this way of handling the cello is an obvious asset to the orchestra, since some tenor figures, performed by the usually weak and dull-sounding violas, do not stand out enough for the penetrating original tone of the Violoncells, on the other hand, has an intervening effect; in the full tutti, however, he would not be able to make up his mind to rob the double basses of the support of the violoncello,[15]

Since Beethoven, the violoncello has often been used as a melody instrument in the tenor register in addition to its harmony-filling functions. One of the first examples of this is the second theme in the first movement of Schubert's Unfinished .

The third movement of Symphony No. 3 in F major, op. 90 by Johannes Brahms, is one of the most beautiful orchestral solos for the cellos . Even Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (for example, in the 2nd movement of Symphony pathétique ), Antonin Dvorak (Symphony No. 8, beginning), Claude Debussy (a passage in the first movement of "La Mer") and many other composers have conceived for the instrument rewarding tasks .

In the balletLe sacre du printemps ” by Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) the violoncellos make a striking appearance with their staccator rhythms in the second piece “The Harbingers of Spring - Dances of Young Girls”.

Modern uses

The cello also plays a role outside of classical orchestral music because of the variety of its tonal possibilities:

Perttu Kivilaakso, member of the Apocalyptica group , with an electrically amplified violoncello
  • A violoncello is also often used in the Argentine Tango Nuevo .
  • The cello was popularized in jazz by the cell and double bass player Oscar Pettiford . He was followed by jazz musicians such as Ron Carter , Dave Holland , Abdul Wadud , Hank Roberts and David Baker . The cello sound was partially amplified, distorted or - as in the case of Zoë Keating - multiplied electronically . See also → Jazzcello
  • The band Rasputina almost exclusively uses cello in their music, so the band also shaped the music style "cello rock".
  • The violoncello has been part of rock music since the late 1960s . The Beatles already experimented with cello sounds on their studio albums. As a pioneer, Roy Wood , who is primarily associated with the Electric Light Orchestra , introduced the cello as an integral part of an ensemble in the stage practice of rock 'n' roll and pop music . Also wrote one of the best-known contemporary composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber , a modern album for Cellos, which is composed of variations on a theme by Paganini composed
  • In 1996, four Finnish cello students from the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki began playing songs from their favorite band, the metal formation Metallica . As an exam at the academy, they selected four pieces. This resulted in the Finnish cello rock group Apocalyptica , which practices instrumental music with electronically amplified and modified cello sounds. While the first album Plays Metallica by Four Cellos only contained Metallica pieces played on cello, the following albums included cover versions of Metallica, Slayer , Sepultura and Rammstein, among others also always original compositions.
  • In collaboration with the legendary flamenco guitarist Pedro Bacàn, Ramón Jaffé opened the door to flamenco for the cello. After the death of Bacán, Jaffé followed this path with his own ensemble.
  • The band Coppelius also uses the cello instead of the electric guitar .
  • The duo 2Cellos , consisting of Luka Šulić and Stjepan Hauser, is in the classic, but mostly rock-related genre. They virtuously use the entire sound potential of their instruments and incorporate it into elaborate arrangements with sophisticated sound technology.


Small cellos

1/8 cello in front of a whole cello

In addition to the normal 4/4 cello (body length approx. 750 mm), there are also instruments in smaller versions for children who are learning to play the instrument.

  • 1/16-Cello
  • 1/8-Cello - Body length 510 mm
  • 1/4-Cello - Body length 590 mm
  • 1/2-Cello - Body length 655 mm
  • 3/4-Cello - Body length 690 mm
  • 7/8-Cello - Body length 720 mm

The size of the instrument cannot be inferred directly from the fraction. The size of a 3/4 cello is around 90% of a 4/4 cello, and that of a 1/8 cello is 65%.

Lessons for playing the cello (sheet music)

Before 1900

After 1900

See also


  • Michael Bach : Fingerboards & Overtones, images, basics and drafts of a new cello game. edition spangenberg, Munich 1991, ISBN 3-89409-063-4 .
  • Julius Bächi: Famous Cellists. Portraits of the master cellists from Boccherini to the present day. Atlantis Verlag, Zurich 1998, ISBN 3-254-00121-4 .
  • Harald Eggebrecht : Great Cellists . With two digressions on great violists and 69 illustrations. Foreword by Janos Starker. Piper, Munich / Zurich 2007, ISBN 978-3-492-04669-5 .
  • Albert E. Kahn: Pablo Casals : Light and shadow on a long way. Memories. Fischer Taschenbuch, Frankfurt am Main 1979, 1995, ISBN 3-596-21421-1 .
  • Maria Kliegel : With technology and imagination for artistic expression. Mainz 2006, ISBN 3-7957-0562-2 (with 2 DVDs).
  • Gerhard Mantel : Cellotechnik. Cologne 1972. (Revised edition. Schott Music, Mainz et al. 2011, ISBN 978-3-7957-8749-3 ).
  • Gerhard Mantel: practicing the cello. Schott, Mainz 1999, ISBN 3-7957-8714-9 (A method of practicing, not just for strings).
  • Gerhard Mantel: Intonation. Schott, Mainz 2005, ISBN 3-7957-8729-7 .
  • Klaus Marx: The development of the violoncell and its playing technique up to JL Duport (1520-1820). Gustav Bosse Verlag , Regensburg 1963.
  • Winfried Pape, Wolfgang Boettcher : The violoncello. Construction, technology, repertoire. 2nd Edition. Schott, Mainz 2005, ISBN 3-7957-0283-6 (standard work on history, technology and repertoire).
  • Gregor Piatigorsky : My cello and I and our encounters. dtv, Munich 1998, ISBN 3-423-20070-7 (humorous autobiography of the famous cellist).
  • William Pleeth : The cello. Ullstein, Frankfurt am Main 1985, ISBN 3-7163-0198-1 (philosophy of playing the cello, playing technique, history and a list of less well-known works).
  • Ralf Schnitzer: The Development of Cello Pedagogy in the Early 20th Century. Peter Lang Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1995, ISBN 3-631-48708-8 .
  • Brunhard Böhme: Development and Aspects of Vibrato on the Violoncello. (ESTA Bulletin 1984).


Commons : Cellos - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Violoncello - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. David Dodge Boyden : The History of Violin Playing from Its Beginnings to 1761 . Schott's Sons, Mainz 1971.
  2. ^ Johann August Eberhard: Synonymic Concise Dictionary of the German Language , 17th edition, 1910.
  3. Duden online: Pin
  4. ^ The cello website of the Instrument of the Year Initiative
  5. ^ Susanne Klein-Vogelbach, Albrecht Lahme, Irene Spirgi-Gantert: Musical instrument and posture . Springer, 2000, ISBN 3-540-64537-3 .
  6. Carl Burney's The Music Doctors Diary of a Musical Journey. [Vol. I]: through France and Italy, Hamburg 1772 [reprint: Charles Burney: Diary of a musical journey. Kassel 2003], p. 99.
  7. ^ Johann Sebastian Bach, Life and Work in Documents . Leipzig / Kassel 1975, ISBN 3-7618-0498-9 , p. 175.
  8. Michael Praetorius : Syntagma musicum , 2nd vol., 1619, image on panel XXI, no. 6 , tuning in the Tabella universalis on p. 26. under the name Groß Quint-Baß , the one under Viole de Braccio; Violins is classified
  9. William Pleeth: The Cello . Edition Sven Erik Bergh, 1993.
  10. Johann Joachim Quantz : Attempting an instruction to play the Flute Traversiere. 3. Edition. Breslau 1789, p. 217 ( Wikisource )
  11. Letters from London: The Trench Cello, 1. Oktober 2014.
  12. This cello was played in the trenches of the First World War auf, 7. November 2017.
  13. Hans Ackermann: Steven Isserlis: "The Cello in War Times" on
  14. Trench cello from WW1 played for 'first time', BBC, 20. Februar 2015.
  15. Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung. 14th year, No. 32, 1812, Sp 519-526; Quotation in Sp 525 (
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on June 28, 2005 in this version .