Instruments related to the violin: The cello
The bass viola da braccio
No one knows for sure when exactly the first cello was created. However, based on the instrument’s first mention in writing, we know that it was being used at the beginning of the 16th century.
At first it appears that the instrument was called the bass viola da braccio (“viola for the arm”). As the name suggests, this was a viola da braccio (one of the ancestors of the french violin) that was capable of playing in a lower register.
Cellos until the first half of the 17th century did not have a set number of strings, and instruments with anywhere from three to five strings were played in a variety of tunings. However, during the first half of the 17th century, cellos in Italy were generally four-stringed instruments tuned to C-G-d-a, and this gradually spread to other countries as well. From the 18th century onwards fingerboards grew increasingly long, the shapes of bridges and bows were changed, and other detailed modifications were made in order to these instruments louder. By the second half of the 19th century, cellos were generally supported on their end pins (until then they were held between the knees and played, like a viola da gamba). Steel (or nylon) strings became commonly used at the start of the 20th century, replacing the gut strings that were used until then.
The relatives of the cello
At the beginning of the 18th century, cellos came in a variety of shapes. One example that is especially famous even today is the “violoncello piccolo (small cello).” These instruments are slightly smaller than a cello, and there are even some that are strung with five strings in order to expand the upper register. J.S. Bach is well-known for using the violoncello piccolo in his compositions. His “Solo Cello Suite No. 6 in D Major” specifies the use of a five-stringed instrument, and it is likely that he assumed a violoncello piccolo would play this piece. Bach also composed some church cantatas that call for the violoncello piccolo. Some conductors even today employ violoncello piccolos to play these pieces in an attempt to reconstruct the music as it was meant to be heard. One notable example is Anner Bijlsma.