Music Study – The Violoncello

What we have said of the violin may in a great measure apply to the Violoncello. The conformation of the left hand, strong and large, with the fifth finger rather long, assumes here more considerable importance, because of the dimensions of the instrument. To have both arms normally formed, and the ear correct, or capable of becoming so, are indispensable. The age that appears most convenient for beginning varies between six and twelve years, but a beginning may be made later, as long as the lack of flexibility is not in opposition to the exigencies of the position, particularly with regard to the bow. It is an advantage for the child to practice on a little violoncello proportionate to his size, and not to use an instrument of ordinary dimensions until he attains his growth ; finally, the time of daily study depends solely upon the individual endurance ; and, consequently, cannot be regulated absolutely ; so long as the work is intelligent and not mechanical, it is profitable.

The position and the general attitude of the body are of great importance with the violoncello, as with the violin. It acts at the same time upon the quality of tone and the rapidity of the playing ; but it is less constrained, particularly since the custom of adding a peg to the instrument, which supports a part of its weight. On this account, there is a possibility of slightly prolonging the hours of study, the fatigue being, in reality, a little less considerable.

Besides this, the peg, which is not yet used by all artists, I do not know why, offers an advantage of a particular character for the women who want to study this instrument. Before its adoption, the violoncello had to be held by a slight pressure of the knees, and the feet were constrained to a rather ungraceful position, almost a contortion ; moreover, the forced contact of the skirts to a certain extent spoiled the vibrations of the sound cavity. With the peg, these two inconveniences have disappeared ; and the violoncello, held as represented in certain portraits of St. Cecilia, has become infinitely more accessible to women and young girls than formerly.

This is how the learned musician Gevaert, in the work from which we have quoted several times, defines the qualities that constitute the beauty of timbre of the strings of the violoncello, and to which consequently the attention of the student of the violoncello should be directed : ” Of all the instruments that are qualified to interpret a melodic idea, not one possesses the accents of the human voice in the same degree as the violoncello : not one reaches the deepest fibres of the heart so surely. In variety of timbres, it yields nothing to the violin. It unites in itself the characters of the three male voices : the youthfulness of the tenor, the virility of the barytone and the austere ruggedness of the bass. Its vibrant chanterelle is called upon to translate the effusions of exalted sentiment : regrets, sorrows and the ecstasy of love. The second and third strings have an unctuous and insinuating sonority that expresses more restrained feelings ; the fourth string is fitted only for songs of a sombre and mysterious character.”

But apart from its singing, it finds a use as the bass of the String-Quartet, where its power and roundness give it a particular importance.

By reason of its compass and its several registers, the violoncello is the only instrument that demands the knowledge of three clefs : the treble, tenor and bass (G, C in alt. and F).