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What Is a Baroque Cello?

A.M. Boyle
A.M. Boyle

The baroque cello, while similar in appearance to the modern-day version, is different in several important respects. Most noticeable is the fact that the baroque cello does not have an end pin. It also has the neck set at a straighter angle to the body of the instrument. The bass bar is also smaller, and the bridge is smaller and thicker as well. Gut strings are usually used on a baroque cello, and the bow has a different shape than that used with the present-day cello.

The violincello, more commonly known as the cello, dates back to the 16th century. Early on, cellos were a bit different than the ones most commonly used today. The cello that people recognize and most often play today wasn’t developed until the mid-1800s. For the most part, the differences are subtle and were designed to give the cello more volume so that it could be played in larger venues and with other louder instruments.

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When a person looks at a cello, he or she might notice a long, narrow protrusion at the base. This device is called an end pin, and it rests against the floor, anchoring the instrument in place. There is no end pin on a baroque cello. Rather, a musician who plays the instrument usually rests it between his or her legs, against the sides of the calves. Some say that this allows for greater upper body mobility and better playing by the musician.

On the modern-day cello, the neck is generally angled back from the body of the instrument, which is said to give the strings better resonance and volume. The neck of the baroque cello, however, is not angled but rather extends straight from the body. In addition, for the baroque-style cello, the bass bar is smaller. The bass bar runs through the instrument and serves to spread vibrations throughout the body. A bigger bass bar results in bigger sound, while a smaller bass bar causes the sound to be softer but also deeper and richer.

The bridge on a baroque cello is shorter and thicker than that used on most other cellos. This causes the tension on the strings to be tighter and closer to the body of the instrument so that the sound does not resonate as loudly as it otherwise would. Furthermore, gut strings are typically used on a baroque-style cello as opposed to the steel strings one might normally find. The gut strings, although harder to maintain and keep in tune than steel strings, give the cello a softer, more mellow sound.

If a person were to compare the bow used on a baroque cello with one more commonly used, he or she would notice that the baroque bow has more of a curve to it. This allows the bow to hug the strings more tightly. Gut strings generally provide greater resistance than steel strings, and the curved shape of the bow helps to compensate for that. It requires a different touch and technique, though, and those who are used to the straighter-style bow might find it more difficult to manipulate effectively.

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