The Cello (or as it is also known, the Violoncello), is one of the two stringed instruments of the orchestra which is frequently used to play the bass line. It is the second largest of the fiddle shaped instruments, and is held in front of the player between his or her knees with the neck and scroll against the left shoulder. A metal spike holds it in place, either pushed against the floor or, more commonly, held in a special spike holder. When packed it will travel in a specially made case. Although some players will keep their cellos in soft cases this is not a good idea because of the risk of damage during transport. It is far better to purchase a hard case in which bow, cello, rosin and any other accessories can be carried together.
The Cello has four strings tuned as follows:-
- Two C's below middle C
- Two G's below middle C
- The D below middle C
- The A below middle C
Despite being a lower range instrument the length of the strings allows a skilled player to reach right down almost to the end of the finger board, playing up to two octaves above middle C. This high position playing is difficult but appears very frequently in the Elgar cello concerto and produces a timbre that no other instrument can emulate.
Famous celloists of the 20th Century include Pablo Casals, Mistislav Rostropovich, Paul Tortelier and last but not least Jacqueline Du Pre. Ms Du Pre has a special place in the hearts of many musicians because she developed Multiple Sclerosis at the height of her career and had to abandon solo playing in concerts for teaching. She spent many years in a wheelchair before she died.
Cello music which anyone interested in the instrument should listen to includes Bach's set of six Cello Suites, the aforementioned Elgar Cello Concerto (look out particularly for Jacqueline Du Pre's recordings) and the Faure Elegie.
In performance the Cello will be seen as an instrument in the orchestra, as well as in chamber music performances. Schubert often gave it the tenor line in his quartets and quintets and his string quintet "The Trout" includes many instances in which the cello plays a leading part. In Bach's Brandenburg concerti too the cello line will often be heard as a solo voice. It is therefore an essential part of the performance of Classical music.