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What Is a Cello Quartet?

Cindy Quarters
Cindy Quarters

A cello is a stringed instrument, similar in appearance to the violin, but much larger. The cello is played with a bow while the instrument is held in an upright position. It rests on a large pin that in turn rests on the floor, supporting the cello’s weight. The cello is included as part of larger groups, such as orchestras, and may also be used as a solo instrument, either with an orchestral backing, piano accompaniment or alone. An ensemble of four cellos played together is called a cello quartet.

The cello quartet is not seen as often as typical mixed string quartets that include the violin, cello, viola and double bass. Still, the smooth, mellow sound of such a group has many followers, and new fans are often created when people hear a quartet play. Members of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra created what they called a “cello metal” quartet, playing such tunes as “Hyperventilation” by the metal band Apocalyptica. Performances such as this help people to see the cello quartet in a new light. The response to such ventures is generally very positive, encouraging cellists to push the conventional boundaries of music even further.

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Man playing a guitar

Other cello quartets have formed to play a variety of both classical and modern tunes. Groups such as CELLO, Pizzicato 4, Cellidoscope and the Pacific Cello Quartet have all had some success in spreading the popularity of the cello through the performance of many different kinds of cello music. They have been known to play a wide variety of music with equally wide appeal.

These quartets may feature all of the musicians equally, or one player may be featured more than the others. When a single musician from a cello quartet is featured, it is usually because he or she has more experience than the others in the group, and is a better player. It is not uncommon for members of a cello quartet to alternate who is the featured player, with one person taking the lead on one song, and someone else being featured on another.

When cellists play, either as a quartet, duet or soloist, there is no hard and fast rule about accompaniment. The music may be created by unaccompanied cellos, or anything from a single piano to an entire orchestra may act as backup. What they use depends on the group’s preferences, the type if music being played, as well as the location.

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