The program for LACO’s upcoming Mozart Serenade (October 18 and 19, buy your tickets now!) features a George Benjamin piece and (spoiler alert!) a Mozart Serenade. But since the concert will also feature Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D major, featuring guest cellist Steven Isserlis, it’s the perfect time to bone up on cello trivia. Whet your appetite with these 9 Things You Never Knew About the Cello!
The Cello’s Full Name. Cello is actually an abbreviated word. The full name name for the instrument is violoncello, which translates to “little violone.” The violone, which was larger, is the direct ancestor of the double bass.
A Workout For Your Calves. The wood or metal spike at the base of the cello that allows the cellist to rest their instrument on the floor is called an endpin. Even though the cello dates back to the 16th century, endpins weren’t commonly used until the beginning of the 20th century. The first to attach an endpin to their cello was Belgian composer and cellist Adrien-François Servais, who did so around 1845. He must have been tired of holding his cello between his calves, which was the standard practice for hundreds of years.
Pluralize It! There are two acceptable ways to pluralize the word “cello”: cellos and celli.
You Sound Like a Cello. Many musicians and experts have claimed that, of all the instruments that make up an orchestra, the cello is the one that most closely sounds like the human voice. Tod Machover, a composer and Professor of Music and Media at MIT, explained why: “The cello range is identical to the human voice – that is, the male and female voice combined. The lowest cello note is at the bottom range of a basso profundo, and although the cello can scream higher than any singer, it has a more normal top range that competes with a diva coloratura.” (from Machover’s essay “My Cello,” included in the book “Evocative Objects: Things We Think With”)
Expensive…and Broken! In 2012, a Stradivarius cello thought to be worth $20 million dollars was broken when it fell off a table during a photo shoot at the Spanish Royal Palace in Madrid. It’s part of a set of instruments known as ‘The Quartet’ that were acquired by King Philip V of Spain during the 1700s.
Spruced Up. The top plate of a cello is commonly made of spruce, a softwood that’s known for having good sound radiating qualities. Spruce is popular among manufacturers of many stringed instruments, including violins and guitars, because of its high stiffness-to-weight ratio.
High Fashion Cello. What’s famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s connection to luxury fashion icon Louis Vuitton? The Louis Vuitton Foundation has loaned Ma the Davidov cello, which was made by Stradivarius in 1712. It’s one of many cellos that Ma uses during performances, and one that he frequently performs Baroque music on. The Louis Vuitton Foundation has at least three other instruments that they loan out to musicians: two violins (the Zahn and the Reynier), and a cello (the Vaslin).
Medical Testing. The oldest surviving cello, called the ‘King’ and made by 16th-century luthier Andrea Amati, recently entered a hospital for testing. In 2013, researchers at the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota, used a CAT scanner to examine the condition of the ‘King,’ and to try to identify the originality of the materials used during construction.
24 Hours of Cello. There’s one cello-centric Guinness World Record, and it’s for Longest Cello Marathon. The current record was set in 2005 by Shamita Achenbach-König, who played the cello for 24 continuous hours on November 5th and 6th, 2005. Her day-long concert included pieces by many of the biggest names in music, including Bach, Chopin, and Dvorak, as well as folk songs and spirituals. The record was set at the Impossibility Challenger Games in Munich, which celebrates the limits of the human spirit and body. Achenbach-König’s record wasn’t the only one set during the Games: a Swiss bodybuilder tore a 960-page phone book in half in under 3 seconds, a Slovakian man juggled three 20-pound balls for 25.66 seconds, and Jennifer Davies from Canada set two Guinness World Records for whistling the highest and lowest notes ever whistled in history.