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date: 12 December 2019

Violoncello [cello]locked

  • Stephen Bonta,
  • Suzanne Wijsman,
  • Margaret Campbell,
  • Barry Kernfeld
  •  and Anthony Barnett



The bass instrument of the violin family. In the Hornbostel-Sachs system it is classified as a bowed lute (fiddle). The violoncello’s present name means, in Italian, a ‘small large viol’, as it employs both the superlative suffix -one, and a diminutive one, -ello. Such a bizarre name suggests that its early history is not straightforward. In this article the term Bass violin will be used for the earliest forms of the instrument: not until the early years of the 18th century did the smaller model of bass violin become standard, and the name violoncello was generally adopted at about the same time. The bass violin was given myriad names before this date: ‘bas de violon’ (Jambe de Fer, 1556, p.61f); ‘basso di viola’ (Zacconi, 1592, p.218); ‘bass viol de braccio’ (Praetorius, ii, 2/1619, ‘Tabella universalis’, p.26); and ‘basse de violon’ (Mersenne, 1637, ii, p.185). Other terms given in Italian prints from ...

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