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Originated from the Italian word “violoncello” meaning “little big violone,” the modern cello is played as a solo instrument in chamber music, provides the bass voice of a string quartet, and is also a component of a standard symphony orchestra. It is a member of the violin family along with the violin and viola and in a symphony orchestra is second only to the double bass in size. Comprised of four strings tuned to perfect fifths, the cello possesses the same intervals as the viola but is set an octave lower. The instrument is said to be the closest sounding instrument to the male voice.
Europe traditionally had two types of stringed instruments known by the Italians as the lira da braccio and the lira da gamba. The lira da braccio was held in the arms while the lira da gambas are held between the knees. In 1660s Bologna, it was discovered that wire-wound string gave a finer bass sound than was being produced by the bass stringed instruments of the age. Out of this discovery was born an instrument whose clearer, lighter sound was preferable for solo performances. This new instrument was better adept to intricate and virtuosic playing, however, its lighter tone deemed it unusable in church unless doubled by basses or violins. The instrument grew in popularity throughout Europe in the 1700s thanks to Italian players although the French persisted to use the bass violin for several more decades. During the Baroque era, cellos were still held between the legs while playing. In the 1830s, Belgian cellist August Adrien Servais introduced the endpin which supports the instrument on the floor and also transmits the sound through the ground.
If you are in the market for a cello as a student or a professional, there are more options than ever to suit your specific needs. Beyond the classical, wooden cellos, there are electric models as well as lightweight compact cellos for eased transport. Whether preparing for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, taking beginning band lessons at school, or attempting to start a non-traditional cello music group, there are a plentitude of options suited for your budget and needs.
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