Baroque Cello History

Nowadays the term Baroque cello is often used but what does "baroque cello" refers to? Does it refers only to one instrument? One size? Once you start digging into the origins of the instrument, you notice that this is a much more complex story than playing on guts strings with a baroque looking cello and bow...

Are you HIP?

Historically

Informed

Performance

Everything is an interpretation of what has been written and drawn.  The aim of the performer is to get as close as possible to the text knowing that there no absolute truth, and many possibilities.

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baroque cello guts strings

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THE BAROQUE ERA

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

The "VIOLONCELLO" was born!

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. 

FROM MONTEVERDI

.TO BACH

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 c.  

mid 1500

HALS, Dirck musician 1623 - baroque cello
Number of strings: 4 or 5
Body length: between 79 & 86 cm

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


Mid 1600

Number of strings: 4 or 5
Body length: between 77 and 80

The first so called "violoncellos"  were bigger than the celli we use nowadays.
For example
The Medici: made in 1690, back length 79.25 cm 
The Servais: made in 1701 back length: 79,2
(both made by Strdivarius)

Post 1710

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

 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 



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

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the bow: clip in, no screw

The screw system appeared after 1750
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1620

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

1740

Portrait-Of-John-Hebden-Fl.1740-60-A-Cellist-In-Handels-Orchestra
A cellist in Haendel's orchestra
Before clipping in the frog.
After clipping in the frog, concave form

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THE STRINGS

The silver-wound string was invented during the XVIITh Century. 
A and D are always pure, without silver-wound.
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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 cellists. A and D are always pure, without silver-wound.

Visit the chapter about choosing strings for your cello


CLOSER VIEW

IV

Silver wound string 
Eq. Ø 4,00 mm 

iII

Ø 2,70mm - Pure "triple" 

iI

HIGH TWIST Darmsaite 

i

Toro sheep gut DISKANT 

SET-UP

THE MOST COMPLICATED PART...
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bridge

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.

Fingerboard

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...)

Fingerboard and bridge


The tilt angle of the fingerboard has a great influence on the instrument and its vibration. The greater the inclination, the higher will be the bridge and the pressure on the cello.
Another angle to look at is the angle of the rope over the bridge. Bigger angle means more pressure.
The main difference between a baroque cello and a modern cello is not only about the strings and the bow, but also the pressure exerted on the cello.





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le mot de la fin...

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

Points to consider...

  • 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 of dry wood not 300 years old 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!).

Interpretation...

By comparing essays, paintings, one can get closer to what might have been the instrument 200, 300, or 400 years ago but what is also important to consider is that the human kind changed, the performer changed, the society and the developpment of the ego of the performer also changed. It is impossible to erase the present, nor the past but only be aware of it.

Once you got the instrument and understand the set up, the tension of the strings, tension of the bow, you can start reading, make your own opinion.

Experiment, search, read, listen, follow your guts ;) !

Next chapters : the bowtechniquepractice, and more to come...


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