They spoke about it
THE VIVACIOUS VIOLONCELLO
Enduring and full of life, the vivacious violoncello is alive and well!
The cello has been overlooked by musicians for centuries. Skeptics have been ignoring the praiseworthy instrument, resisting its charm. No one even knew what to name the third lowest member of the violin family, which carried on under many other names: basso di viola da braccio or basso da braccio (in Italy in 1600), basse de violon (in France), bass violin (in England), etc. The name violoncello (literally meaning “small large viol”) became current in the mid-17th century. And while its little brother, the violin was considered the king of instruments, the amicable cello was trying to find its place and… its position, as it was played in every fashion – standing up, hung over the shoulders (in processions) or even perched on a stool.
Eventually, the world’s greatest composers embraced the warm sounding cello. Yet, for years, even Bach’s Suites for Solo Cello (c. 1720) were considered merely dreary exercises, until Pablo Casals (1876-1973) came along and unveiled their beauty with his interpretation.
When it made its first appearance in France around 1720, the cello triggered heated debates among music lovers, who revered the viola da gamba. In his controversial essay, Défense de la basse de viole contre les entreprises du violon et les prétentions du violoncel, Paris lawyer and viola da gamba connoisseur, Hubert LeBlanc attempted to rehabilitate the viol, calling the cello a ” pretentious, miserable dunce. “. Nevertheless, the cello managed to gain popularity in the 1760’s, thanks to Luigi Boccherini and other cello virtuosi.
In 1783, when Haydn wrote his famous Cello Concerto in D (dedicated to virtuoso Anton Kraft), musicologists were dumbfounded: how could a composer who does not even play this instrument write such a masterpiece? And though Beethoven and other romantic composers finally embraced the cello in the 19th century, the instrument was still not fully appreciated. For example, in his Sonata in F (1886), Brahms literally drowns the cello under a heavy, overwhelming piano accompaniment. As they were reading through the score together, the cellist (and friend of the composer) exclaimed: “I cannot hear! – How lucky you are!” replied Brahms. But to his own surprise, as he discovered Dvo?ák’s Concerto (1895), Brahms reportedly declared: “Why on earth wasn’t I told that one could write such a concerto?! If only I knew, I would have written it a long time ago!”
Despite all this, the cello continues to conquer musicians and music lovers alike, transcending the borders of classical music. And now begins a new era, as Claude Lamothe explores the multifaceted instrument with his irresistible verve. The vivacious, voluptuous, versatile, vibrant cello is vindicated.
© Antoine Ouellette,
Composer and musicologist.
Translation : Francine Labelle