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The Cello

The violoncello, commonly abbreviated as the cello, is the second largest member of the violin family. The modern cello is tuned in fifths, with C2 (two octaves below middle C) being its lowest string, followed by G, D, and A. Various special techniques are possible, including double stops (playing two notes at the same time), spiccato (allowing the bow to rebound off the strings), and vibrato (a small pulsation in pitch created by a rocking motion in the left hand).

The early history of the cello is difficult to trace, since it was made in a variety of sizes and known by many different names, but the earliest known evidence of its existence dates back to the mid-16th century. Early performers played with the cello resting directly on the floor or by supporting it solely with the legs. The endpin was adopted nearly universally by the late 19th century as a means to support the instrument and provide cellists with greater comfort. Originally the strings were made of sheep gut, but by the early 18th century these started to be replaced by wire-wound string, allowing for greater volume of sound and better intonation. Around the same time, Stradivari had established a body length of 75-76 cm, which has served as the standard ever since.

The expressive capabilities of the cello have been frequently used in both ensemble and solo settings. Pablo Casals (1876-1973) is widely credited for making J.S. Bach’s Cello Suites a part of the regular repertory. Other favourite works for the cello include Schumann’s Concerto in A minor, Saint-Saëns’ Concerto No.1 in A minor, Rachmaninov’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor and Elgar’s Concerto for Cello in E minor.

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