The cello makes its mark as the biggest string instrument. But these facts about cellos involve more than their big size and sound!
What makes the cello so interesting? People mistakenly think this instrument is just a giant violin played upright, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Hopefully these facts about cellos will make you appreciate how amazing this instrument really is.
Cellos are among the most expensive string instruments. In fact, the most expensive instrument ever sold was a Stradivarius cello that went for $20 million. Pretty pricey, right!? But keep reading to learn more drama surrounding the sale of that cello.
The cello pops up in movies and folklore throughout history. Even Napoleon had a run-in with this big string instrument.
Historically, you could tell a lot about a player by the cello they played, and what color their bow was. Accomplished players are often lent expensive and one-of-a-kind cellos that have their own names!
There are cellos in existence made from a wide variety of materials, not just wood. Can you imagine playing an ice cello? Or one made from trash?
The oldest cello in existence is 500 years old and is named after a French king. You can see this cello at a museum in South Dakota (yes, there is even a cello museum).
So keep on reading to find out some more cello facts that will really amaze you – no.14 might just be our favorite though!
19 Fun Facts About Cellos
1. It used to have a different name
Similar to the pianoforte, the cello used to be called the violoncello. This name literally translates to little violone. Note, NOT violin. The violone was the direct ancestor of the double bass. Obviously, it was quite a large instrument as well.
2. Cellos used to hurt the player
If you look at a cello today, you will notice a point, called the endpin. Its job is to prop up the instrument. However, this was not a thing until 1845. Prior to that, musicians suffered from sore backs and calves as they had to hold the cello up to play it.
3. It was historically only for men
Originally, women were not encouraged to play the cello because the process of holding it and making music was quite unladylike.
Ladies would have to turn both legs to the left and sink into a kneeling posture or use a stool hidden by their dress if they wished to play this large instrument.
4. The cello is like the human voice
The cello resembles the human voice in more ways than one. For starters, the range of the cello is remarkably similar to a voice being able to hit all four registers: the bass, tenor, alto, and soprano.
But beyond that, the tone of the cello is rich and quite expressive, and it affects listeners similarly to a person singing.
5. The color of the bow tells a lot about the player
If a cellist is playing solo, his bow should be made with white bow hair. Musicians who are part of a group typically play with black hair. Though this fact about cellos isn’t always hard and fast.
6. There have been some updates over the years
Originally, the strings for cellos were made from catgut. While this material is not literally cat’s guts, it isn’t much better. The intestines of sheep and goats were stretched and then specially treated to create tight strands.
Today, metallic materials, mainly aluminum, chromium, and titanium, make up the strings of cellos.
7. The cello confused Napoleon
Antonio Stradivari is quite famous for his stringed instruments, including some violins that are pretty expensive today. But this master also made cellos, and each one has a name.
In 1711, Stradivari made The Duport, which would go on to meet some famous people. Jean-Louis Duport, who this instrument was made for, played for Napoleon.
Napolean thought the music was so enticing that he wanted to try it himself. However, he couldn’t figure out how to hold and play it properly, ultimately leading to a dent in the instrument from the emperor’s boot – this is definitely one of our favorite fun facts about cellos!
8. Cellos can be expensive
The average cello can cost around $1,000, but they can get much more expensive, even without having special names attached to them.
The Duport cello, the same one in which Napoleon attempted to play, sold for $20 million in 2008. The Nippon Music Foundation purchased this renowned instrument to preserve.
9. But there remains some mystery to The Duport
Renowned cellist Mstislav Rostropovich owned and played The Duport from 1974 until his death. The Nippon Music Foundation purchased the cello for an incredible $20 million.
However, Rostropovich’s heirs still claim to own the famous cello. Since 2008, nothing new has come to light in regards to where the actual cello played by Duport and Rostropovich is. Many people consider it hiding in a basement somewhere!
10. Cellos can be made from different materials
Traditionally, cellos are made from different types of wood, most commonly spruce or pine for the neck, maple or poplar for the body, and ebony for the fingerboards, pegs, and tailpiece.
However, builders have gotten quite creative in what they make cellos out of. In fact, cellos made from ice, glass, metal, and carbon fiber all exist! And they are usually playable. Talk about cold fingers if you’re playing an ice cello.
11. Cellos are quite regal
The cello has attracted royals throughout history. Prince Charles played the cello at Cambridge. Prince Harry showed that same love of cellos by having a renowned cellist play at his wedding.
King Frederick, the Great of Prussia, was a cellist along with an accomplished composer and owned a Stradivarius cello. But the most interesting royal fact about cellos is that the oldest cello in existence, known as The King, bears the image of a crown on it.
12. The King is 500 years old
Andrea Amati created the oldest cello in the world, aptly called The King, in the mid-1500s. This incredible cello is intricately decorated in red, green, and gold paint.
The King is appropriately named because a picture of King Charles IX of France is displayed on the instrument, crown, and all. You can see this amazing instrument at the National Music Museum in South Dakota.
13. There are 63 Stradivarius cellos in existence
It is clear that the most valuable cellos were made by Antonio Stradivari. Even though he made many more, only 63 are still in existence today.
These cellos all have names, as well. And while many are privately owned, quite are few are on loan to accomplished cellists. Yo-Yo Ma has the privilege of playing The Davidov. Bonus cello fact: Louis Vuitton owns The Davidov.
14. Cellos often make their way into movies
Another Stradivarius is famous for other reasons. This particular cello is featured in a James Bond movie, The Living Daylights. In the story by Ian Flemming, the cello takes center stage. Action and comedy abound, such as jokes about its size while Bond tries to cram the cello case into an Aston Martin.
Fleming’s half-sister owned a Stradivarius cello called the Amaryllis and was an avid cello player and teacher herself.
15. There’s a Landfillharmonic Orchestra
It’s not uncommon to hear of an orchestra with the word Philharmonic in the name. This term means “inspired by music”. However, in Paraguay, there is a Landfillharmonic Orchestra.
It troubled the founder to see so many local children playing in a large mound of trash in the Cateura Village. So he encouraged the children to be productive and they made instruments from the trash. He taught them to play the instruments and gave them the opportunity to tour.
16. The shape is very intentional
A cello has a large, hollow body with a slanted neck. The angle of the neck isn’t for the comfort of the player. Rather, the shape of the neck is intended to create a louder sound when the cellist applies extra pressure to the bridge.
17. Cellos have their role in art and fashion
In 2012, a famous photographer attempted a photo shoot with four Spanish instruments called The Spanish Quartet. The team placed a 1694 Stradivarius cello known today as The Spanish, next to two violins and a viola.
However, an accident resulted in the cello falling over and the neck was broken off! A master luthier was able to fix the priceless instrument, but still, imagine being the one who broke a 300-year-old instrument.
18. Cellos are associated with peace
Music played on the cello is quite peaceful, but cellists don’t stop with the music. Many different cellists are known for their peacekeeping efforts around the world.
Pau Casals was awarded the United Nations Peace medal and even played for the United Nations General Assembly. The International League of Human Rights gave Mstislav Rostropovich an award. Since 2006, Yo-Yo Ma has been a Messenger of Peace for the United Nations.
19. Cellos have purfling
How about this as for our cello facts – plurfling is actually a word (honestly, we didn’t make it up!)
Purfling is an inlay around the edge meant to enhance the look of the cello, but it also plays an important role. This sturdy border prevents the cello’s wood from buckling or cracking under stress and pressure from playing it.
Who wants more fun facts?
If you’re looking for some recommendations, these are a few of our favorite fact books to buy. We use these when planning fun trivia nights with family and friends!
What did you think of these fun facts about cellos? Which one was your favorite?
If we’ve missed any cello facts, let us know in the comments below and we’ll add it to this article!