Home / Topics / Strings – The Romantic cello

Print content of page

Strings – The Romantic cello

The Romantic age constitutes a highpoint in the history of the cello, following on from its rise to favour in the eighteenth century, when it gradually supplanted the viola da gamba and was enriched by new playing techniques. Notable among these was the invention of the thumb position, which made it possible to conquer the instrument’s top register and to increase the virtuoso potential of the left hand, facilitating in particular the use of double stopping on the part of the neck closest to the bridge. Given a place of honour by the leading composers of the time, including Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Schumann, Lalo, Saint-Saëns and Chopin, the instrument broke free once and for all from the traditional accompanying role it had been assigned in the Baroque period and the Classical era that followed. The emergence of a specialised literature written by cellists who explored both the technical and the expressive possibilities of the instrument – Jacques Offenbach, David Popper, Jean-Louis Duport, Bernhard Romberg – also encouraged considerable progress in playing techniques and showed other composers the potential of an instrument whose lyrical character was well suited to the contemporary Romantic aesthetic.