The instrument was first called the bass violin then violoncello which literally means “big little violin” in Italian; the name was eventually shortened to cello. The first known maker (but not the first actual maker) was Andrea Amati who built cellos for Charles IX King of France.
As early as the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries, artists began to depict the violin in paintings, giving testimony to its presence in the music world. The cello, however, or 'bass violin' did not come into existence until the fifteenth century. The reason for the late appearance of the deeper voiced member of the violin family was, at least in part, the evolution of the sound ideal in Western European music. Due to the long-held dominance of vocal music over the musical scene, it was natural that this ideal would be determined by the trends of singers of the time. Performance practice in vocal music, until the fifteenth century, demanded a tone which was high-pitched and nasal, producing a sound we would more closely associate with Eastern music nowadays. This changed with the compositions of the Flemish school, led by Johannes Ockeghem, himself a bass singer. The vocal range was expanded on the lower end, eventually reaching low C. At the same time, the sound ideal shifted to the more open-throated tone that we know today.
It was under these circumstances that the 'bass violin' began to make its place in the musical world. Over time, the name violoncello developed, from 'violone,' a large viola, and 'cello' an Italian word meaning small. This it was a little large viola, showing that the people of the time did not really know what to call this new member of the violin family. The instrument evolved completely separately from the viol da gamba, having no frets and a dramatically different shape.
The role of the violoncello was very diverse in its first two hundred years, usually participating in the accompaniment and bass line of various forms of music. In the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, the members of the violin family were considered particularly appropriate for sacred music. However, the instruments were not used exclusively in these roles, and artistic depictions indicate that they were used for all kinds of events, from weddings to the raucous music making in the village taverns.
Edmund van der Straeten, in his History of the violoncello, the viola da Gamba, their precursors and Collateral Instruments, states frequently that the level of technical achievement on the cello was extremely backward, and could in no way compare with that of the violin, or the viola da gamba. At times, however, he points to evidence, which is quite to the contrary. One example is his description of the virtuoso duel between the cellist Tonelli and the violinist D'Ambreville in the early eighteenth century, which was apparently so spectacular that the audience 'broke out in rapturous applause at the end.') If there did exist full-blown virtuoso cellists, it is strange, the utter lack of solo repertoire that existed up through the middle of the seventeenth century. Nona Pyron, in her supplement to William Pleeth's book, Cello, offers one possible explanation for this fact: from AndrewDunnCello.com
You can play your Strad to your heart’s content, or rent it out to violinistJoshua Bell. Just be sure not to drop it.
Of the 1,100 violins that Stradivari is believed to have made during his lifetime, only 650 are known to remain. Although there were other noted violin makers in Stradivari’s timesuch as Guarneri and Amati, whose works now fetch great sums of moneythe surviving Strads are more numerous, more famous and more expensive.
Even the most successful and celebrated luthier of all time might have been surprised to learn that his “Lady Tennant” violin was sold last year byChristie’s for more than $2.03 million, the highest amount ever paid for a musical instrument at a public auction.
In 1998, Christie’s auctioned a very similar Strad (crafted in 1698, one
In private, they may go for even more: The Stradivari Society, a private Chicago-based organization that purchases rare violins and loans them to promising young musicians, values some “golden era” (post-1700) Stradivari violins at $6 million each.
Stradivari (born 1644, died 1737) is believed by many to have built his finest instruments as an older and consequently more skilled craftsman. An early-period (pre-1700) Stradivarius, therefore, may sell for less. However, “such examples represent excellent values for musicians, as sound does not precisely follow price,” write Stradivari Society founders Robert Bein and Geoffrey Fushi in their essay, “The Masterpieces of Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù: A Market Perspective.”
According to the Stradivari Society, the value of Stradivari and Guarneri violins has tripled since 1990.
“As institutions and museums hold an increasing percentage of the great violins, the competition intensifies for the remaining instruments when they do become available, and the continued increases in violin prices of the current decade dramatically reflect this fact,” say Bein and Fushi.
What gives this particular fiddle its unrivaled appeal? Some scientists have suggested that Stradivari used alpine spruce that had grown during an era of uncommonly cold weather. This may have made the wood abnormally dense and contributed to the brilliant sound quality of his instruments. Others insist that no instrument maker has ever worked harder.
Perhaps the answer lies closer to the fact that instrument connoisseurs, like stock investors, are drawn to a great story. Strads are undoubtedly beautiful in sound and design, and many have been passed down through the hands of generations of great musicians, from 18th-century master Nicolo Paganini to 20th-century virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin.
The allure of rich provenance may also explain how rock legends can turn cheaply-made guitars into million-dollar purchases. While violins still top the list of the most expensive instruments, their fretted cousins are quickly catching up, especially those attached to celebrity names.
“Musical instruments have been great investments, such that I now consider them to be far superior to
In fact, Gruhn suspects that Clapton’s “Blackie” guitarthe most expensive ever sold publicly, at $959,500 in 2004was assembled from guitar parts purchased in part from him in the 1970s for, oh, maybe a few hundred bucks. (Read Forbes FYI’s 2005 article on collecting rare guitars, “While My Guitar Gently Reaps.”)
But is this kind of growth sustainable? “Only if one does [one's] due diligence,” cautions Christie’s Keane. He cites six fine-instrument value determinants:
1. Attribution (who made it)
4. Provenance (who played it)
5. Freshness to the market. An instrument brought out of 200 years in hiding incites “an air of discovery,” Keane says.
6. Fashion. For example, “classical guitars are hot right now.”
Once you’ve done your homework and put in your winning bid, don’t closet your new acquisition or display it on the mantle under your Picasso. Like wine or art, fine instruments need to be stored in a carefully monitored, semi-humid climate to maintain their worth.
As for the most expensive instrument ever sold”The Lady Tennant”it could fetch up to $3 million today in prime condition, Keane estimates.
Not a bad return for an old piece of wood.