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engl .:  cello , ital .:  violoncello
classification Chordophone
string instrument
range Grading scheme
Template: Infobox musical instrument / maintenance / sound sample parameters missing Related instruments

Violin , viola ; also double bass , viola da gamba

List of cellists
Category: Cellist

The violoncello [pronounced ˌviolɔn'tʃɛlo ], plural cellos or violoncellos , short form cello , plural cellos or cellos, formerly also cello , plural violoncells or violoncelle , is a string instrument from the viola da braccio family made from different types of wood . The abbreviation is Vc.

The word comes from Italian and actually means "little violone ". The German name used to be bass violin or small bass violin .

The cello is bowed by the cellist with a bow . In contrast to the violin and viola , the instrument is held upright between the legs (with the neck up) and today it usually stands on the floor with an extendable spike, also known as a perno, made of metal, wood or carbon fiber reinforced plastic .

The instrument was made in northern Italy after 1535.

The state music councils of Baden-Württemberg, Berlin, Brandenburg, Bremen, Hesse, Thuringia, Saar, Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein have named the cello as “ Instrument of the Year ” for 2018.

Layout and function


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 maintain 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, which would lead to an instrument with the dimensions of the double bass . The high ribs have the effect that certain partials in the sound spectrum, especially the 1st overtone , are amplified. 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.


  • Body length: 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 ( gut , plastic ( nylon ), steel , silver , aluminum , tungsten ). The dimensions are also influenced by 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

Material and construction

Violoncello in the overview, important parts labeled
Close-up of the body with bridge , tailpiece and sound hole ( f-hole )

The violoncello is made by the violin maker. From a technical point of view, building the cello is very similar to building the violin. However, the production of a violoncello takes about three times as long as that of a violin. For the construction of a violoncello, different types of wood are used , which are also used in the construction of violins and violas. The body of the instrument is made of spruce and maple : manufactured (infrequent maple cherry, pear, walnut or poplar), the ceiling and the blocks inside are usually made of spruce, back, sides and neck with the peg box of the aforementioned hardwood. The fingerboard , pegs and tailpiece are made of ebony or, more rarely, other hardwoods such as boxwood or rosewood . At the start of construction, the ceiling and floor consist of massive 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 completed with various tools is the inner arch started. These steps are of great importance for the later sound of the cello. 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 to the correct thickness as flat strips. 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. The lengths vary more on the violoncello than on the violin, but are less variable than on the viola.

Further details on building a string instrument can be found in the article violin maker .

Sound generation

With the cello, as with all string instruments, the sound is created by the vibration of the strings and the body of the instrument . The strings are stretched from the head (with the snail) over the top saddle and the bridge to the tailpiece in the lower third of the body. The bridge is a flat, often artistically crafted, wooden plate with notches for the four strings, which is placed in the middle of the body with two feet perpendicular to the top of the body . It transfers the vibrations of the strings to the top of the body, which in turn causes the air inside the body to vibrate. A sound post transmits the vibrations between top and bottom. The bass bar, which has a similar function, is glued under the ceiling, at about the level of the lowest string. The entire body thus acts as a resonance body that amplifies the sound. Two lateral sound holes on the top of the body increase the mobility and resonance of the top. It is a mistake to believe that it is through them that the sound is directed outwards.

The sound is generated mechanically by painting the string with a bow or by plucking it with the fingers. Depressing the string with a finger of the left hand can shorten its vibrating part. This causes a higher oscillation frequency and thus a higher pitch. There are no frets on the fingerboard , as is the case with the viol. With cello and viol, the player hits the right place on the fingerboard by training his posture and movement memory and not by visual control. A well-trained hearing helps.

Cello bow

Mood and range

Today the violoncello is strung with four strings with a fifth spacing, which are empty, that is, unhandled, tuned to the pitches CGda, an octave lower than that of the viola . The pitch range extends (in easily playable positions) from the capital C to the three-stroke g (g '' ') and, as a harmonics, even to the four-stroke a (a' '' ').

string grade Science notation
1 (highest string) a A 3
2 d D 3
3 G G 2
4 (lowest string) C. C 2

In German and Austrian orchestras mostly tuned to a '= 443 Hz (see concert pitch ), the frequencies of the strings would be a = 221.5 Hz - d = 147.67 Hz - G = 98.44 Hz - C with pure tuning = 65.63 Hz; in Switzerland mostly according to a '= 442 Hz, which corresponds to a = 221 Hz - d = 147.33 Hz - G = 98.22 Hz - C = 65.48 Hz.

Strings / sound

The main register, which covers the range of the male voice, but also extends beyond it, is characteristic of the cello. Mostly it is described in the specialist literature as a tenor instrument, but actually it comes from v. a. in older literature (in which it was often doubled with a double bass), it was also used as a bass instrument. The range of the cello reaches almost five octaves . The characteristics of the four strings depend very much on the construction of the instrument and the string material used (gut or steel, wrapping). The violoncello can display the following vocal registers well:

  • Bass: Great depth, voluminous, dark coloring, powerful, velvety, slim, flexible
  • Tenor: stable, radiant-brilliant, tenoral-noble, dramatic as well as lyrical, soft, beautiful melting
  • Alto: cantable, somewhat more voluminous than the viola

The violoncello is very versatile:

  • as a bass instrument in baroque music (basso continuo)
  • 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)

A motto for the basic mood is A ch D u G roßes C ello; also from the lowest string: C äsar G eht D urch A then or C ello G eht D och A uch!

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

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 oscillation and decay process, noise components and the 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 around 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 cello are at 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 a range in which the violin has its strongest formants. That is one of the reasons for the different tonal character 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). It can, however, 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 other string instruments in that it is preferably divided into two zones between 2000 and 5000 Hz (to the floor and vertically upwards) .

Playing technique

Jewish wedding in the 18th century

Today the cello is played almost exclusively while seated. 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 . From the 16th to the 18th century, 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 held the instrument to the body with a strap. In the 20th century, the Arnold Cello Stand was developed, which enables playing while standing.

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 in 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 hands on their hair and their thumbs on the wood, as happens with the viola player". Even in July 1800, a travelogue from Vienna can be read in the Weimarer Journal des Luxus und der Moden , 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 leads."

The bowing plays an important role: it determines volume , timbre , articulation and rhythm . The cellist must have the 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 transfer of force from the arm to the bow occurs through pronation of 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 hair to the string and the balance of the bow when lifting the bow from the string ( see Spiccato ). 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 switching to the smear, slightly turned inwards (supination), when switching to the upstroke slightly outwards (pronation), which is biomechanically more favorable.

The direction of the bow stroke results in the basic division into down / pull and up / push. The bowing to the right - the downstroke / drawstring - is used for tonal and technical reasons rather for accentuated parts of the beat, the upstroke accordingly more for unstressed, especially for upbeats. This has been true since the cello was created in the Baroque era. However, the differences between down / pull stroke and up / push stroke are minimal with modern instruments and bows, so that this principle has lost its importance.

Sound generation: The line types can basically be assigned to two groups:

  • The bow hair is always in contact with the string during the bow movement: in détaché, legato , portato , staccato , martellé , sautillé.
  • The bow hairs spring off the string and back again: in Spiccato and Ricochet .

The pizzicato (plucking) with the fingers allows additional sound effects.

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 subsequent 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.


see the separate entry Flageolett .

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 overtones of the respective string are addressed. 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 at 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 note): 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 equal tuning. 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 on 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 flageolets 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 lightly placed (usually in a fourth or third interval). This allows harmonics to be played in any order and pitch (examples: Shostakovich piano trio, 1st movement, 1st cello concerto, 2nd movement, Messiaen Quatuor pour la fin du temps, 1st movement). A professional must master these techniques, in particular 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 with artificial flageolets. This is only partially correct: the best effect is achieved when the bow is at least close to a nodal point in the overtone series that corresponds to the harmonica that is currently being played.


Origin, naming and structural developments

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

The violoncello 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 B¹ lasted in France and England until around 1715–1720, in Bologna the CGdg mood was common until 1700. From around 1730 the fifths tuning predominated on the C note throughout Europe.

Initially, the name of the instrument was simply bass violin , bass violin or French basse de violon or Italian basso di viola da braccio , in Italy also violone . The term violoncino only appeared occasionally. Sometimes these early bass violins were worn 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.

Finally, in the Twelve Trio Sonatas by the Italian composer Giulio Cesare Arresti from 1665, the diminutive form of the cello appears for the first time with the same meaning as the violoncino . Violoncello literally means “small large viola” (or small violon / double bass).

Well-known violin makers of the 16th century who already made such instruments include: a. Andrea Amati (c. 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 Domenico Montagnana and Matteo Goffriller , for example .

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. Many contemporary paintings feature “cellos” with a fifth string. One such instrument from Ghent, dated 1717, is in the Musée Instrumental, Brussels . Even JS Bach composed his Sixth Suite for Solo Cello in D major (BWV 1012) voted in favor of a cello with a fifth string to e '. Such instruments are now called the cello piccolo , 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 set into 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. Some of the early instruments were fretted. Johann Joachim Quantz mentions this practice in his experiment .

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. Such instruments were also played by soldiers on various occasions in the trenches of the First World War and are therefore sometimes also known today as trench cellos ( trench cellos ), along with instruments that were built directly at the front.

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 , and Bruckner, there is also a notation in the treble clef that octaves downwards . 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 violoncello part is notated below the part of the double bass . If this is missing, it takes the lowest place.

Solo use

See sub-article: Music for violoncello

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 violoncello, 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 cello.

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 cello music 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 the last movement as well. Johann Sebastian Bach , who took an active part in the instrumental developments of his time, dedicated the six important suites for cello solo (BWV 1007-1012) to the cello around 1720 .

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

Since that time the violoncello has 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 musical 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 long-term awareness.

But some things have survived, such as the more than 40 violoncello 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, these also stand out among the cello concertos by 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 cello 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 "classic", was developed further by Ludwig van Beethoven in particular . Following the example of his five important “Sonatas for Piano and Violoncello”, 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 violoncello sonatas. The violoncello also appears as Le cygne , the swan, in its orchestral suite Le carnaval des animaux: fantaisie zoologique .

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 etc. a. 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 composed two violoncello 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 for the first time with the cello in connection with electronics and tape , but also with electrically amplified cellos and similar innovations. A large number of technical enhancements were composed for a cellist in Helmut Lachenmann's piece Pression , for example . 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 the 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 violoncellos were often not even mentioned by name, but rather 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 voices for them. Ludwig van Beethoven took this idea further and entrusted the cellos 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 not 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 not easy to perform. Rec. [The reviewer] admits that this way of treating the violoncello is an obvious asset for 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 a decisive 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, since they only clearly and sharply determine the tone of the double basses through the higher octave.

Since Beethoven, the cello 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 cellos make a striking appearance in the second piece “The Harbingers of Spring - Dances of Young Girls” with their staccator rhythms.

Modern uses

The violoncello 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 became popular in jazz thanks to 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 partly electronically amplified, distorted or - as in the case of Zoë Keating  - multiplied. See also → Jazzcello
  • The band Rasputina almost exclusively uses the 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 the sounds of the cello 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 not only cover versions of Metallica, Slayer , Sepultura and Rammstein but also their own 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 predominantly rock-related genre. They virtuously use the entire sound potential of their instruments and incorporate it into elaborate arrangements with sophisticated sound technology.


In addition to the normal 44 violoncello (body length approx. 750 mm), there are also instruments in smaller versions for children who are learning to play the instrument. The sizes range from 116 to 18 (Kl. 510 mm), 14 (590 mm), 12 (655 mm), 34 (690 mm) to 78 violoncello (720 mm). The size of the instrument cannot be inferred directly from the fraction. The size of a 34 violoncellos is about 90% of a 44 violoncellos, that of a 18 violoncellos is 65%.

Teaching works for cello playing (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 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 a. a. 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 JLDuport (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).

Web links

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

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Johann August Eberhard: Synonymic concise dictionary of the German language . 17th edition. 1910
  2. Duden, keyword "Perno"
  3. David Dodge Boyden : The History of Violin Playing from Its Beginnings to 1761 . Schott's Sons, Mainz 1971
  4. Instrument of the year 2018
  5. The comparisons with the vocal subjects come from the book "Kloiber, Handbuch der Oper", Volume 2, Kassel 1973, pp. 758 ff.
  6. Susanne Klein-Vogelbach, Albrecht Lahme, Irene Spirgi-Gantert: Musical instrument and posture . Springer, 2000, ISBN 3-540-64537-3
  7. 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
  8. ^ Johann Sebastian Bach, Life and Work in Documents . Leipzig / Kassel 1975, ISBN 3-7618-0498-9 , p. 175
  9. 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
  10. ^ William Pleeth: The cello . Edition Sven Erik Bergh, 1993
  11. ^ Johann Joachim Quantz : Attempting an instruction to play the Flute Traversiere . 3. Edition. Breslau 1789, p. 217 ( Wikisource )
  12. ^ Letters from London: The Trench Cello , October 1, 2014
  13. This cello was played in the trenches of the First World War on, November 7, 2017
  14. Hans Ackermann: Steven Isserlis: "The Cello in War Times" on
  15. Trench cello from WW1 played for 'first time' , BBC , February 20, 2015
  16. In: Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, ed. INForkel, 14th year (1812), No. 32, Sp 519-526; Quote in Sp 525 online here
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on June 28, 2005 in this version .