The Cello: Background information when reading Rooftoppers

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Rooftoppers

by Katherine Rundell

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2013, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2014, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Heather A Phillips

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Beyond the Book:
The Cello

Print Review

cellosCello music plays a pivotal role in Rooftoppers. The cello is a string instrument played with a bow. It has four strings tuned to perfect fifths. It is an octave lower than a viola, and an octave and a fifth lower than a violin. The name "cello" is an abbreviation of the Italian violoncello, which means "little violone".

Antonio Stradivari Andrea Amati, of Cremona, Italy, is one of three people credited with the invention of the cello, and he, without question, added a 4th string to the instrument that existed at the time. His grandson, Niccolò, also a luthier (a stringed instrument maker), taught the world famous violinmaker Antonio Stradivari, who also built cellos. These original cellos were slightly larger than the modern cello. Though he had made cellos to the earlier pattern, Stradivari set the modern design in the late 1600s or early 1700s by taking the pioneering step of reducing the size. This made the cello easier to play. The change caught on quickly, and by the mid 1700s luthiers were generally using this smaller pattern. Another change to the cello came in the seventeenth century, when string-makers from Bologna, Italy started wrapping wire around their gut strings, giving the string a deeper sound and greater resonance. Previously, strings had been made only of gut, which produced a softer sound when played.

Traditionally, a cello has a spruce top, with maple used for the back, sides, and neck. Other woods, such as poplar, are sometimes used for the back and sides. The top and back are traditionally hand-carved. The top and back also have a decorative border inlay known as purfling. While purfling is attractive, it is also functional. If the instrument is dropped or struck, a crack may form at the rim of the instrument, but will spread no further. Without purfling, cracks can spread up or down the top or back. Playing, traveling and the weather all affect the cello and can increase a crack if purfling is not in place.

The 440 AllianceFew important cello concertos were written before the 19th century – with the notable exceptions of those by Vivaldi, Bach, and Haydn. Its full recognition as a solo instrument came during the Romantic era with the concertos of Schumann, Saint-Saëns and Dvořák. Mstislav Rostropovich, a Soviet cellist and conductor once said that "when the cello enters in the Dvořák Concerto, it is like a great orator." Twentieth-century composers have made the cello a standard concerto instrument.

First image: cellos
Second image: A romanticized print of Antonio Stradivari examining an instrument
Third image: The 440 Alliance, a cello rock band

This article was originally published in October 2013, and has been updated for the June 2014 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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