an introduction to the baroque cello

Cello by Daniel König

Baroque cello made by Daniel J. König



Bass violin, violoncello...


Bow by Hans Reiners
Clip in


Guts & silver wound

set up

Bridge? Bass bar? Fingerboard?

the baroque era

Between 1600 and 1750 many changes happened in the music forms but not only... 

the "violoncello" was born!



a bass instrument

What we call nowadays baroque cello cannot refer to only one type of instrument. 

There was no size established during the baroque period, but many types of bass instruments among the family of the violin, the bass violins.

The word violoncello first started to appear in Italy during the second half of the XVIIth century.  

G.C. Arresti was the first composer to mention  the violoncello in 1665 in "Sonate a 2 e a tre, con la parte del Violoncello beneplacit" Op. 4. 

Angellis pieter Musical Company in an Elegant Interior

Numer of strings: 4 or 5
Body length: a range around 79 & 86 cm
From mid 1500

Almost all the basses like the one above were cut down to violoncello size after the baroque period.
(Among them, Amati's King bass)

Angellis pieter Musical Company in an Elegant Interior

Numer of strings: 4 or 5
Body length:  first: between 77 and 80
Mid 1600
The first so called "violoncellos"  were bigger than the celli we use nowadays.
 For example, 2 Stradivarius who kept their original size:
The Medici : made in 1690, back length 79.25 cm 
The Servais, made in 1701 back length: 78,2


Number of strings: 4 
Body length: around 75,5

Post 1710
 Stradivarius invents a new model of violoncellos : `Forma B piccola di violoncello, with a back length around 75,5cm
For Example:
The Duport, 1711: back length: 75.5 cm
The Davidoff, 1712: back length 75,7cm 

Reconstruction of  Amati's  "The King" by Roland Houel 
( Built in the mid-16th century)

the bow: clip in, no screw

The screw system appeared after 1750

(read the full chapter about the bow and the bowhold)


Bow made by Hans Reiners, Berlin
excerpt from CLAESZ Pieter still-life with music instruments, 1623 


A cellist in Haendel's orchestra
Before clipping in the frog.
After clipping in the frog, concave form

The screw system appeared after 1750, during the classical era. The first bows with a screw in the nut are called transitional bow.



The silver-wound string was invented during the XVIITh Century. 

It is important to experience a pure gut G String to understand the instrument, 
tempi and more but a silver-wound G string is often adopted by baroque players for comfort of playing.  

A and D are always pure, without silver-wound.

(chapter about installing your strings)



Silver wound string


Ø 2,70mm - Pure "triple" 


HIGH TWIST Darmsaite 


Toro sheep gut DISKANT 

For the first string set up,  it is recommended to take your cello to a guts strings maker, or to contact one for advice. The maker will calculate the tension, the diameter and the string length needed for your instrument. (In my case, I was lucky to go to Pure Corde for my first set up, you can also order strings here)


This is when it becomes more complicated to find answers...


The shape is almost flat
The inside part of the feet is small or inexistent.
Distance beweeen the strings is wider than on a modern bridge

Bass bar

What we know:

A Baroque bass bar is:
  • shorter than a modern bass bar
  • generally oriented parallel to the centerline of the instrument, either under the bass bridge foot or in the center of the instrument.


What we can see:
The fingerboard was shorter and wider
Low-set necks
What can be discussed:
Angled or Non-angled necks?
(experience and make your opinion...)

Le mot de la fin...

Good news: you don't need a stradivarius to play baroque cello ;)

Almost all the celli of the baroque period have been transformed to modern set up (including neck, fingerboard, bass bar, sound post, bridge, and size for most of the instruments made before 1700). 

Playing a 300 years old wood is not the most important knowing that the cellos in the baroque era were recently made, meaning no old wood, just dry wood. An historical set up on a newly made instrument with baroque mesures is, to my opinion, the most authentic approach (and affordable for a musician!).

Once you got the instrument and understand the set up, the tension of the strings, tension of the bow, you can start reading and reading and reading...  Experiment, search, read, listen, follow your guts ;)

Next chapters : the bow, technique, articulation, and more...

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