Cello History

Here is a chaotic list of quotes and references to articles and books dealing with the early history of the cello, most especially relating to its initial development at the end of the 17th century and beginning of the 18th century.

Alessandro Sanguineti article: “Unearthing Forgotten Treasures ….”

Recent studies by Marc Vanscheeuwijck and Brent Wissick have demonstrated that the term “violoncello” at the end of the seventeenth century in Modena and Bologna could refer to an instrument strung with various tunings and held da gamba or da spalla (in between the legs or on the shoulder). Marc Vanscheeuwijck, “Violoncello and Violone,” A Performer’s Guide to Seventeenth- Century Music, 2nd ed. (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2012), 231–247

Brent Wissick, “The Cello Music of Antonio Bononcini: Violone, Violoncello da Spalla, and the Cello ‘Schools’ of Bologna and Rome,” Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music 12, no. 1, www.sscm-jscm.org (accessed Feb. 28, 2012).

Edmund van der Straeten: “History of the violoncello, the viola da Gamba, their precursors and Collateral Instruments”

Badiarov, Dmitry. “The Violoncello, Viola da Spalla and Viola Pomposa in Theory and Practice.” Galpin Society Journal 60 (2007): 121–145.

Barnett, Gregory. Bolognese instrumental music, 1660-1710. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008.

“The Violoncello da Spalla: Shouldering the Cello in the Baroque Era.” Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society 24 (1998): 81–106.

Bonta, Stephen. “From Violone to Violoncello: A Question of Strings?” Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society 3 (1977): 64–99.

“Terminology for the Bass Violin in Seventeenth-Century Italy.” Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society 4 (1978): 5–42.

“Violoncello,” by Stephen Bonta. [28 Feb. 2012, www.oxfordmusiconline.com (accessed Feb. 28, 2012).

Vanscheeuwijck, Marc. “The Baroque Cello and Its Performance.” Performance Practice Review 9, no. 1 (spring, 1996): 78–96.

“Violoncello and Violone.” in A Performer Guide to Seventeenth-Century Music. 2nd ed. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2012: 231–247.

Wissick, Brent. “The Cello Music of Antonio Bononcini: Violone, Violoncello da Spalla, and the Cello “Schools” of Bologna and Rome.” Journal of
Seventeenth Century Music 12, no. 1. www.sscm-jscm.org.

http://www.academia.edu/5016315/Nicol%C3%B2 Porpora and the cantabile cello.

George Kennaway, Playing the Cello 1780-1930 (Ashgate, 2014)
http://chase.leeds.ac.uk/article/cello-basic-posture-george-kennaway/ (history of cello posture)

Ginsberg, History of the Violoncello

Robin Stowell, The Cambridge Companion to the Cello,(New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999)

Valerie Walden, One Hundred Years of Violoncello: A History of Technique and Performance Practice, 1740-1840 (London: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 209.

La Via dates the first use of the term ‘violoncello’ by composers active in Rome to the 1695 publication of Gasparini’s Cantate Op. I.8

SVEN HOSTRUP HANSELL, Orchestral Practice at the Court of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, «Journal of the American Musicological Society», XIX, 1966, pp. 398-403: 399; gives
1722 as the year in which «violoncello» replaced references to «violone». Olivieri (Cello Teaching and Playing in Naples in the Early Eighteenth Century cit., p. 110) notes 1708 as the first year in which the term «violoncello» was used in the records of the Neapolitan Chapel Royal.

STEFANO LA VIA, «Violone» e «violoncello» a Roma al tempo di Corelli, in Studi Corelliani IV, Atti del Quarto congresso internazionale (Fusignano, 4-7 settembre 1986), a cura di Pierluigi Pietrobelli e Gloria Staffieri, Firenze, Olschki, 1990, pp. 165-191: 182.

Division of the bass part into two staves: Along with his frequent inclusion of cello obbligato arias, Scarlatti introduced from the 1690s a style of scoring which became his regular practice particularly in his serenatas: the division of the bass line into two staves, each with an individually composed part. The serenata, Venere, Adone, et Amore provides an example composed just a few weeks earlier than Il Genio di Mergellina and performed July 15, 1696. Scarlatti’s interest in pairing voice and violoncello can be seen not only in his cantatas, but in his obbligato arias for violoncello, which appear from the 1690s in works composed for Naples.



In 1709 Antonio Stradivari responded to the requests of these new clients from outside the borders of Italy by designing a new, smaller form of violoncello that took advantage of advances in over-spun string production. This stringing was a considerable technical advance that allowed a more flexible and shorter vibrating string length for the C and the G strings, while maintaining their just tension.

This new cello, the Stradivari Forma B, was considerably shorter and more petite than its larger and older cousin, the so-called violoncello di Venezia that had a different tuning than the modern cello. Both forms of cello continued to be made and used concurrently for the next 70 years or so, while the smaller form gradually gained prominence because it allowed virtuoso playing styles.

This smaller form cello was not an invention of Stradivari, but his genius for efficient design ensured its ultimate success. In 1707 the small-form cello had already been popularized, first by Domenico Gabrielli (1651–90) in Bologna, and then by his pupil Giuseppe Maria Jacchini (1663–1727) in the same city. This new use, which capitalized on the instrument’s capabilities as a virtuoso instrument, was also explored by the Bononcini brothers Giovanni and Antonio, who traveled throughout Europe in the early 1700s popularizing and advertising the potential.

This model, with slight modifications, was used from 1707 until 1719. The body length of the Duport is 75.5cm, the upper bout 34cm, with the cc’s 22.8 and a lower bout of 43.6cm. The body stop is 40cm, or 15.75 inches.


Michel Corrette, in his Traité de violoncelle (1741), attributed to the influence of Italian players including Bononcini the introduction of the violoncello to Paris, in the early Eighteenth Century

Three pieces from Porpora’s serenatas of the period 1721-1726 bring together virtuoso cello writing and an original style of dialogue between voice and obbligato cello. These are substantial arias in the new ‘moderato’ style that allowed spacious thematic structure, elaborate figurations and development through exchange of various thematic elements: the cantabile style was now well established as an inseparable part of the violoncello and its famous virtuosi players.

Nicolò Maccavino suggests that the motive for the violoncello obbligato setting of «Basta sol che voglia» to replace the previous setting with four-part string orchestra, may have been to pay tribute to the Roman cellist Giovanni Battista Costanzi, maestro di cappella to Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, for whom Porpora produced the Venetian 1726 re-make of the serenata first performed in Naples, 1724. The two previous serenatas, both performed in Naples, Angelica and Gli Orti Esperidi (1720 and 1721) contain wonderful examples of concertante arias designed to make the audience gasp as the cello takes centre stage for its extended virtuoso introduction. In the case of «Bella Diva» (Angelica), Porpora gives the cello an introduction of 25 measures, within a total length of 116, concluding the A section with a solo postlude of 9 measures. Making nearly one half of the duration of the A section, the cello prelude and postlude in A major begin in the style of a cantabile cadenza in free time, before developing sequential figurations over the whole range of the instrument, based on techniques that Supriani was to encapsulate years later in his Sonate.  (FRANCESCO PAOLO SUPRIANI, see especially Sonata II da Toccata II and Sonata IV da Toccata IV , edited by Guido Olivieri (forthcoming), for evidence of techniques parallel to those used by Porpora in his obbligato arias).

Bibliography from a thesis about Romberg cello concertos
Anderson, Robert. “Cello.” The Musical Times 107 (1966), www.jstor.org/stable/951979
Bacon, Analee Camp. “The Evolution of the Violoncello as a Solo Instrument.” PhD diss., Syracuse University, 1962.
Benward, Bruce, and Marilyn Saker. “Music in Theory and Practice.” 7th ed. New York: Mcgraw-Hill Companies, 2008.
Campbell, Margaret. “Father of the German School: Romberg.” In The Great Cellists, 61–65. London: Victor Gollancz, 1988.
Cowling, Elizabeth. “About the Literature for the Cello: The Early Concerto.” In The Cello, 2nd ed., 99–113. London: B. T. Batsford, 1983.
Deane, Basil. “The Concertos.” In The Beethoven Companion, edited by Denis Arnold and Nigel Fortune, 318–28. London: Faber & Faber, 1971.
Ginsburg, Lev. “Bernhard Romberg.” In History of the Violoncello, edited by Herbert R. Axelrod, 15–30. Translated by Tanya Tchistyakova. Neptune City, NJ:
Paganiniana Publications, 1983.
History of the Violoncello. Neptune City, NJ: Paganiniana Publications, 1983
Kurt Stephenson/Valerie Walden: ‘ Bernhard Heinrich Romberg ‘, The New Grove Dictionary of Music Online ed. L. Macy http://www.grovemusic.com
Lindeman, Stephan D. The Concerto: A Research and Information Guide. New York: Routledge, 2006.
Pleeth, Anthony. “The History and Repertoire of the Cello.” In Cello, edited by Nona Pyron, 208–82. Yehudi Menuhin Music Guides. New York: Schirmer Books, 1983.
Pleeth, William. The Cello. London: MacDonald, 1982.
Raychev, Evgeni Dimitrov. “The Virtuoso Cellist-Composers from Luigi Boccherini to David Popper: A Review of Their Lives and Works.” DMA document, Florida State University, 2003.
Reiswig, Kathryn. “Performance Aspects of Selected Violoncello Concerti from the Period 1700–1820.” DMA document, University of Missouri Kansas City, 1985.
Riedel, Johannes. Music of the Romantic Period. Dubugue, IA: WM. C. Brown Company Publishers, 1969.
Rosen, Charles. The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1972.
Romberg, Bernard. School for the Violoncello. Boston: Ditson, 1840.
Straeten, Edmund S. J. van der. “The Violoncello in Germany from the Seventeenth to
the Beginning of the Nineteenth Century.” In History of the Violoncello, the Viola
da Gamba, Their Precursors and Collateral Instruments, 177–205. London: William Reeves, 1971.
Swert, Jules de. The Violoncello. Novello’s Music Primers and Educational Series. London: Novello, 1882.
Walden. “The Cambridge Companion to the Cello.”Technique, style and performing practice to c.1900, Edited by Robin Stowell, 184. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Walden, Valerie. One Hundred Years of Violoncello: 1740–1840. Cambridge Musical Texts and Monographs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Wasielewski, Wilhem Joseph von. “The Art of Violoncello Playing in the Eighteenth Century: II.Germany.” In The Violoncello and Its History, 67–86. Translated by
Isabella S. E. Stigand. Da Capo Press Music Reprint Series, edited by Frederick Freedman. London: First English Edition, 1894. Reprint, New York: Da Capo Press, 1968.