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twcellist

Violin Cello Piccolo

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I have many questions about the Violin Cello Piccolo. I'm strongly considering having one commissioned by a maker in Oregon. He's never made one, but he did some preliminary research and even took a cheap 1/2 size cello and put it in a 5 string setup as a test for me to try out. He says that the historical cello piccolo's that remain are around a 1/2 size cello, but I've heard of some cello piccolo's that are 3/4 size? Is there any reference or authority for specs? How about Anner Bylsma? Anybody know what size his Cello Piccolo ? What if we decide to just make a 5 string cello based off a 4/4 size cello? I know then it's not Piccolo cello, but I"m wondering if a full size 5 string setup is appropriate for baroque playing? I'm pursuing the 5 string mainly because I want to play Bach Suite 6 on the 5 string  instrument it was meant to be played on (albeit I understand there is debate that it was maybe even written for the Da Spalla.)

Also, one other logistical thing .... when I was playing the cello I attempted to play it without the endpin and I found that the 1/2 size makes it really hard not to hit my knees. The luthier believes it would be hard have a 1/2 size setup played between the knees without hitting the knees and suggests in the beginning (when I'm learning how to play the instrument) to use an endpin. Any thoughts?

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It seems likely that many of the existing French and English cellos that are or were originally with 5 strings  and are of various rather large sizes (3/4+) may have been played with a top d string a fourth above an a string rather than a top e. This would have been comfortable for players used to a bass viol with a top d string. 5 string cellos around 1/2 size may be less consistently successful than slightly larger ones although it is not a problem for me to avoid the knees on the smaller ones. The ones that Bylsma, Wispelwey etc play/played are around 3/4 size (Barak Norman etc). I am doubtful if these had a top e string originally although they work fine. 

 

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8 hours ago, Mark Caudle said:

It seems likely that many of the existing French and English cellos that are or were originally with 5 strings  and are of various rather large sizes (3/4+) may have been played with a top d string a fourth above an a string rather than a top e. This would have been comfortable for players used to a bass viol with a top d string. 5 string cellos around 1/2 size may be less consistently successful than slightly larger ones although it is not a problem for me to avoid the knees on the smaller ones. The ones that Bylsma, Wispelwey etc play/played are around 3/4 size (Barak Norman etc). I am doubtful if these had a top e string originally although they work fine. 

 

You're thoughts on a top D string are interesting. However, the 5 string cello's I've seen at least have a top E and the string makers I know that make a 5 string make an E. Bylsma's Bach recording of the 6 Suite seem to me to be a E string too (Then I again I could be totally wrong.)

What are your thoughts (and anybody else really) on a 1/2 size vs 3/4 size in terms of sound projection. Is it safe to say that a smaller instrument will have less projection. Also, I've been reading around and most notably a website where a Japanese foundation was doing research on the 5 string cello. One of their findings was that when they made the 5 string cello the E string sounded very raspy  and in my limited time playing with a 5 string instrument I also find the E to be that way. Is there anyway to mitigate the raspy tone or is that just the way it really is?

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What is a cello piccolo ? I am trying to find information about a very early cello (?) with a body length of 710 mm. I have never made any "early Music" instruments and am a bit perplexed by references to Bass Violins and other instruments which I assume were transitions between the viol family and the violin family. Any info appreciated.

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39 minutes ago, nathan slobodkin said:

What is a cello piccolo ? I am trying to find information about a very early cello (?) with a body length of 710 mm. I have never made any "early Music" instruments and am a bit perplexed by references to Bass Violins and other instruments which I assume were transitions between the viol family and the violin family. Any info appreciated.

We discussed this complex theme here

 

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On 10/3/2019 at 2:15 AM, twcellist said:

You're thoughts on a top D string are interesting. However, the 5 string cello's I've seen at least have a top E and the string makers I know that make a 5 string make an E. Bylsma's Bach recording of the 6 Suite seem to me to be a E string too (Then I again I could be totally wrong.)

What are your thoughts (and anybody else really) on a 1/2 size vs 3/4 size in terms of sound projection. Is it safe to say that a smaller instrument will have less projection. Also, I've been reading around and most notably a website where a Japanese foundation was doing research on the 5 string cello. One of their findings was that when they made the 5 string cello the E string sounded very raspy  and in my limited time playing with a 5 string instrument I also find the E to be that way. Is there anyway to mitigate the raspy tone or is that just the way it really is?

I have made two violoncello piccolo 5 strings. Designed it myself and based on the proportions of an Guarneri cello, with some modifications on the CC’s.

they have the string length of a 3/4 cello, with the E string in gut and it works just fine. Ben Swartz has one of my piccolo cello. You can ask him as a musician how it works.

i shouldn’t go as far as a 1/2 cello. You should always consider the strings. With a 1/2 cello you will be having problems with the C string.

good luck!

katrien

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8 hours ago, nathan slobodkin said:

What is a cello piccolo ? I am trying to find information about a very early cello (?) with a body length of 710 mm. I have never made any "early Music" instruments and am a bit perplexed by references to Bass Violins and other instruments which I assume were transitions between the viol family and the violin family. Any info appreciated.

There is a very nice book called The baroque cello Revival by Paul Laird that lays some of this out. It is kind of an oral history with interviews from key players (including Mark who posted above)

The bass violin refers to the early cellos (e.g. Amati King, Strad Medici etc) meant for bass accompaniment in early music. There are many early music recordings out there that feature copies of the Servais strad

as for the Violoncello piccolo - Bach used it in 9 cantatas - inc bwv 41 - there are recordings out there that use the Fleming Amat, Jackson notes above. You can hear what it sounds like here 

 

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6 hours ago, Katrien vdmeersch said:

I have made two violoncello piccolo 5 strings. Designed it myself and based on the proportions of an Guarneri cello, with some modifications on the CC’s.

they have the string length of a 3/4 cello, with the E string in gut and it works just fine. Ben Swartz has one of my piccolo cello. You can ask him as a musician how it works.

i shouldn’t go as far as a 1/2 cello. You should always consider the strings. With a 1/2 cello you will be having problems with the C string.

good luck!

katrien

Thanks for you advice and perspective. Good to know about the string situation on a 1/2 size. Yes, the luthier did mention he was having trouble finding strings for this size cello so it seems that 3/4 size might be more practical. Also, I'm thinking the volume of sound is probably better with a 3/4 size?

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4 minutes ago, twcellist said:

Thanks for you advice and perspective. Good to know about the string situation on a 1/2 size. Yes, the luthier did mention he was having trouble finding strings for this size cello so it seems that 3/4 size might be more practical. Also, I'm thinking the volume of sound is probably better with a 3/4 size?

Why not bump it a little higher, say to 707mm. Remember, fractional sizes we're not established until centuries after the violoncello piccolo was in regular use? Instead of reinventing the instrument, look to the functional examples that exist from the best makers. 

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It depends what sort of instrument you are looking for. Some of the Bach Cantata solos sound very good with a very small cello piccolo having more of a viola sound. But probably these parts were originally played by a violinist as the parts are in the violin parts. Therefore very likely played "da spalla". However the suite probably sounds better on a larger instrument. I made a few small ones with a 636mm back based on some photos of a Testore from a Tarisio sale which is that size although originally 4 string. They are probably not ideal for the 6th Suite but not as weak in the bass as you might predict. 

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3 hours ago, Mark Caudle said:

But probably these parts were originally played by a violinist as the parts are in the violin parts. Therefore very likely played "da spalla"

Is there more concrete evidence for this idea? On its own it is not sufficiently compelling. Please understand, I'm not going after you personally, I am going after the idea. 

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It seems very clear if you look at the violin parts (which you can do online) where the violoncello piccolo parts are included. There is also sufficient time between violin numbers to change instruments. The violoncello piccolo solo parts are never included in any of the continuo parts to be played by various instruments such as violoncello, violone or bassoon.

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23 hours ago, JacksonMaberry said:

Why not bump it a little higher, say to 707mm. Remember, fractional sizes we're not established until centuries after the violoncello piccolo was in regular use? Instead of reinventing the instrument, look to the functional examples that exist from the best makers. 

There is perhaps a problem: what is functional? I have always learned, through history, that the evolution of any kind of string instrument depends on the evolution of the string and its material. So from the moment you had wounded gut strings, the instruments could be smaller and so on.... And than you have the E string: what is the breaking point of that string on a 4/4 cello, a 7/8 cello, a 3/4 cello and....? Would you like it to be an E or do you prefer to have it in D - which is also a possibility. And the fact that fractional sizes weren't established is a bit strange because you had all kind of sizes of instruments. It is us, the "modern" society, who wanted to give them numbers like 4/4, 7/8 etc. So, whatever you decide to make, look at the strings,. You can't play an instrument without the strings. 

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On 10/3/2019 at 2:15 AM, twcellist said:

You're thoughts on a top D string are interesting. However, the 5 string cello's I've seen at least have a top E and the string makers I know that make a 5 string make an E. Bylsma's Bach recording of the 6 Suite seem to me to be a E string too (Then I again I could be totally wrong.)

What are your thoughts (and anybody else really) on a 1/2 size vs 3/4 size in terms of sound projection. Is it safe to say that a smaller instrument will have less projection. Also, I've been reading around and most notably a website where a Japanese foundation was doing research on the 5 string cello. One of their findings was that when they made the 5 string cello the E string sounded very raspy  and in my limited time playing with a 5 string instrument I also find the E to be that way. Is there anyway to mitigate the raspy tone or is that just the way it really is?

Hello, I read the paper of the Japanese foundation and there conclusion is a bit strange. First they don't use gut strings. So it is a modern cello with a "modern" E string. I can believe that that E string gives way too much tension on the body so it will also sound that way. When you want a full 4/4 cello 5 strings the best option is to build it with a lower F string. Beautiful sound!!!

About the really beautiful recordings of Anner Bijlsma: there is the possibility that he played the E string and after he finished he tuned it to a D, so that the string didn't break. I don't say he did it that way, it is just a possibility. There are other musicians who does that.

There is in Eugene,Or a prof. Marc Van Scheeuwijck who did quite a lot of research on the violoncello, viola da spell and the bass de violon. Interesting papers.

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19 minutes ago, Katrien vdmeersch said:

There is perhaps a problem: what is functional? I have always learned, through history, that the evolution of any kind of string instrument depends on the evolution of the string and its material. So from the moment you had wounded gut strings, the instruments could be smaller and so on.... And than you have the E string: what is the breaking point of that string on a 4/4 cello, a 7/8 cello, a 3/4 cello and....? Would you like it to be an E or do you prefer to have it in D - which is also a possibility. And the fact that fractional sizes weren't established is a bit strange because you had all kind of sizes of instruments. It is us, the "modern" society, who wanted to give them numbers like 4/4, 7/8 etc. So, whatever you decide to make, look at the strings,. You can't play an instrument without the strings. 

I agree totally. For a simple answer, I again point to the Amaryllis Fleming of the Brothers Amati. 

What is strange about fractional instruments not being established later? Yes, as you say, instruments of a sizes have been made for centuries. However, only in the 20th century did organizations (ie MENC) decide to standardize what constitutes a full size or fractional instrument. 

But those standards did not exist in the heyday of the violoncello piccolo, and therefore have no bearing on its design, construction, and use. You have in existence a small bodied, five stringed cello from two of the greatest luthiers to ever live, which has a technical drawing with measurements available. Why would anyone start from a 3/4 cello drawing from the 20th century when you can start with the Brothers Amati?

As for strings, dozens of manufacturers of gut strings make them in all lengths, in all gauges. Start with something that seems sensible.and adjust from there as needed. It shouldn't be too hard. 

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3 hours ago, Mark Caudle said:

It seems very clear if you look at the violin parts (which you can do online) where the violoncello piccolo parts are included. There is also sufficient time between violin numbers to change instruments. The violoncello piccolo solo parts are never included in any of the continuo parts to be played by various instruments such as violoncello, violone or bassoon.

Seems clear is fine, and I have most of the available Bach family facimilies which I will take a look at. That said, if you are aware of some sort of credible scholarly articles on the matter I would love to read them. I am not trying to cast your expertise into doubt, but we all know that a lot of what passes for "scholarship" in this trade is in fact opinion or anecdote, and I have no time for guesses. 

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2 minutes ago, JacksonMaberry said:

I agree totally. For a simple answer, I again point to the Amaryllis Fleming of the Brothers Amati. 

What is strange about fractional instruments not being established later? Yes, as you say, instruments of a sizes have been made for centuries. However, only in the 20th century did organizations (ie MENC) decide to standardize what constitutes a full size or fractional instrument. 

But those standards did not exist in the heyday of the violoncello piccolo, and therefore have no bearing on its design, construction, and use. You have in existence a small bodied, five stringed cello from two of the greatest luthiers to ever live, which has a technical drawing with measurements available. Why would anyone start from a 3/4 cello drawing from the 20th century when you can start with the Brothers Amati?

As for strings, dozens of manufacturers of gut strings make them in all lengths, in all gauges. Start with something that seems sensible.and adjust from there as needed. It shouldn't be too hard. 

Good evening JacksonMaberry, I must admit that I don't really like the Brothers Amati cello. Shame on me, perhaps.

So I decided to talk to a lot of cellists who are playing a 5 string cello and I asked them the + and - points of their instrument. So, with that in mind I designed my own model. Why not? Isn't it Picasso who said something about being an artist or being a copyist ? I am not pretending that I am an artist but I want to build instruments for the musician. Not for any competition. And yes, strings shouldn't be a problem. But when you want a C string on a violoncello piccolo with a really bass sound, they have to make it specially for you. They don't have that ready made.

On the other hand I also made a "modern" violoncello 5 string and it is a full size cello with a low F string.

So it really depends on what you want. What do you want to make, to build, to play on etc. and than go for it.

Good luck!

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I borrowed a violoncello Piccolo for a month or two when I was studieing baroque cello. I believe the string length was something like 67 CM, so just a Little under current Standard 4/4 Cello. I remember it used an extra thin gauge top d string for Gamba as an e string. I believe the brand was Aquila. It worked fine and sounded nice.

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8 hours ago, Katrien vdmeersch said:

Good evening JacksonMaberry, I must admit that I don't really like the Brothers Amati cello. Shame on me, perhaps.

No shame, certainly. Different strokes for different folks. 

As regards copying, I don't do it or advocate it. But I do promote the notion that luthiers ought to analyze the geometry of the past before they set forth the remake the already understood.  

I believe Picasso did say that. I'd also point to Stravinsky's assertion that the good borrow and the great steal. So I steal the geometric constructions I can discern, and hopefully some day I'll be great

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