The cello was first called the bass violin, then the violoncello, which translates to “big little violin” in Italian. The first ‘modern’ cello dates to the mid 16thcentury. The cello as we know it today, evolved from the viola da gamba, which translates to 'viol of the legs', as it was held between the knees.



Facts and Features

  1. Cellos are pitched one octave lower than violas, and have the same strings – A, D, G and C. 
  2. Cellos were first held balanced on the floor or between the knees. The endpin, or spike, was first introduced in the 19th century.
  3. Cellists read music in the bass clef, and higher notes in the tenor clef. 
  4. The cello has been described as the instrument that sounds closest to the human voice.
  5. Bach’s sixth suite from his 'Six Suites for Cello' was actually composed for the five-stringed viola pomposa, which he invented. If a cellist plays this on a modern cello, they would have to play very high up on the fingerboard! 

Famous Players

Luigi Boccherini – (1743-1805)
Pablo Casals  -  (1876-1973)
Mstislav Rostropovich  - (1927-2007)
Jacqueline Du Pre – (1945-1987)
Mischa Maisky -  (1948-)

Music to Listen to

Bach – Six Suites for Cello
Brahms  - Cello Sonata No. 1 in e minor
Elgar  - Cello Concerto in e minor
Tchaikovsky – Rococco Variations
Villa Lobos  - Bachianas Brasilieras No.5 for 8 cellos and voice

Find Out

1.    Why might a cellist use a ‘doughnut’?
2.    Which cellist replied, “I think I’m making progress” when asked why he continued to practice his cello everyday in his old age?