Also known as the violoncello, this stringed instrument has its origins in the 16th Century in instruments built by such masters as Andrea Amati, Gasparo da Salo and Giovanni Paolo Maggini. These early cellos were a few inches longer than their modern counterparts, and had different tunings, to boot. One was described as being C-G-D-A, in ascending order, and another, tuned a whole note lower (Bb-F-C-G) continued to be popular in England and France into the 18th century. These early cellos were used primarily to reinforce the bass line in string ensembles, and only later developed as solo instruments.
Smaller cellos began to be made in Bologna in the 17th Century after the development of silver-wound lower strings to replace the gut strings previously used, and Antonio Stradivari began building instruments about 30 inches (75 cm) long in 1707. Some experimentation was carried out in the early 18th century with five string cellos, and it is possible that Bach may have written his 6th Cello Suite with such an instrument in mind.
The modern cello has four strings, tuned to C-G-D-A (beginning two octaves below middle C), and typically measures about 27½ inches (70 centimetres) long (47 inches, 119 centimetres with the neck).
Compositions for the cello are now legion. Its deeper note, clear and resonant tone make it a favourite solo instrument, as well as an accompanying instrument to the piano, and in string ensembles.
"Notable works for the instrument include J.S. Bach's six suites for unaccompanied cello, Beethoven's five sonatas for cello and piano, the concertos of Dvorák and Kodály, and the Bachianas brasileiras of Heitor Villa-Lobos, for eight cellos and soprano. Outstanding cellists of the 20th century include Emanuel Feuermann, Jacqueline du Pré and Pablo Casals." (EB)
Cellos are formed from three types of components: exterior parts, interior parts and fittings. Taking the exterior parts first - the top (also known as the 'table', the 'belly' or the 'plate') is made of two pieces of pine or spruce. The sides (ribs) are made of six pieces of maple glued to the top and back. There is a triple line of dyed wood which fits along the outer edge of the instrument called the 'purfling', which helps to prevent cracking of the wood and serves as some small decoration. The 'button' strengthens the joint between the neck and the back and is sometimes outlined in ebony. Finally, slots known as "f holes" are cut into the top to allow sound to escape from the interior.
The fittings are attached to the outside of the instrument, and include the bridge (made of maple), which is not directly attached, but held in place by the pressure of the strings. It sits between the notches of the f holes is notched for the strings. Each bridge is made to measure for the contour of the top. The ebony tailpiece bears the lower ends of the strings, and is held in place by the 'tail gut' which wraps around a plug inserted into a hole at the base. The neck, peg box and the decorative 'scroll' are formed from one piece of wood, to which is glued the finger board, which is made of ebony. The tuning pegs are made of ebony or rosewood and are fitted into the peg box, and the strings are wrapped around them. The 'nut' is a piece of notched ebony glued to the top of the finger board, to maintain the even spacing of the strings. Finally, the strings are either steel, or nylon wound with aluminum or silver. Some cellists still prefer all gut strings.
The interior parts are the "lining", made of twelve strips of pine to which the top and back are glued. The sound post is a small cylindrical piece of spruce or pine which connects the top and back of the instrument, and acts as a sound conduit.