IT: violoncello – FR: violoncelle – GER: Violoncell


This instrument is commonly referred to as the cello. The open strings are tuned to the same pitches as the viola, but an octave lower. The cello rests on the floor with the aid of an adjustable peg and is held between the performer’s knees. It is used as both a tenor and a bass voice in the string section. Lower parts are written in the bass clef, upper parts in the tenor clef, and very high notes in the treble clef.

Tuning and Range

FIGURE 2.16 Cello tuning Cello range


The violoncello sounds as written.

Tone Quality

The two lower strings have a particularly warm, mellow tone. The low C string (IV) provides a very solid bass. The G string (III) does not have as much strength or weight. The D string (II), which has a good deal of body, is most representative of the instrument. Espressivo melodies on the A string (I) have an intense, captivating quality. Flowing melodies, repeated notes, and broken chord patterns are most commonly used. Extremely versatile, the cello makes an excellent solo voice in the orchestra.

Technical Abilities

In the hands of a good performer the cello is a very agile instrument with few technical limitations. A difficult passage in the high range will be taken in thumb position, meaning the left thumb is used to stop the strings for fingerings at higher points on the fingerboard, something like a movable nut. The cello is frequently coupled with other bass instruments and used to reinforce upper-register melodies an octave lower.

Musical Example

FIGURE 2.17 Cello line: Schubert, Unfinished Symphony, measures 44-53

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