Stringed instruments go way back to ancient civilizations, especially the harp and the lyre. Around this time is where the inception of the cello begins as the bow was added to the stringed instrument’s arsenal. The earliest forms of the violin are depicted in paintings around the 13th century, although it wouldn’t be until around the first half of the 16th century some 300 years later that we begin to see violin makers branching out and creating what was to become the modern cello.
If we are to start pointing fingers, it is generally considered that luthiers Andrea Amati (1581- 1632), Paolo Maggini (1581 – 1631), and Gasparo da Salo (1549 – 1609) created the first designs for the bass violin, known as the “violone.” The violone would be much larger than we would recognize today due to the difficulty in achieving lower pitches.
Nailing Down the Design
The size of the cello as we know it today was developed by Antonio Stradivari (1644 – 1737). Sometime after 1710 he started to make cellos around the familiar size, with European luthiers from all over following his example.
Over time, society saw a need for certain sounds, and around the turn of the 19th century, society shifted from a want for delicate sounds for exclusive peers to larger sounds for larger audiences. The cello evolved with this need, mainly to improve volume, responsiveness, and clarity, giving the instrument much more fullness and luster with wondrous overtones.
It wasn’t until Bach’s Six Suites that a major work was written for the cello, and throughout the rest of the 1800s and the early 1900s the cello continued to evolve, albeit minutely.
The Cello Today
With its rich history and richer sounds, the cello unquestionably enjoys its fair share of enthusiasts to this day, and it isn’t just limited to the realms of classical music. Recent years have seen the cello applied to all sorts of genres, from pop to hip hop to metal, even having garnered its own sub genre in cello rock.
Ever a versatile and fascinating instrument, the beauty of the cello has ensured that there’ll be a continued slew of artists ready to take it up and relive the classics and take it forward into interesting and innovative new places.