Rickert Violoncello da Spalla Model 16.5
Rickert Violoncello da Spalla Model 16.5
Note about the photos: In one photo, Don Rickert is playing a larger instrument, the Small Bass Viol da Spalla Model 20.
The Rickert Violoncello da Spalla Model 16.5 is a modern version of a Baroque instrument (as are the violin, viola and cello). What makes it a "modern" instrument is that it has a mortised neck with considerable "angle back." Given sufficient interest, we are considering either making or re-selling a true Baroque model; however, only with an 18" body.
We have called the Violoncello da Spalla the “Newest New Old Thing!”; to those in the technology business, you will recognize this as a take-off on the common expression, “the newest new new thing”.
‘Cello is short for violoncello; hence the apostrophe we often see at the beginning of the word 'cello. During the Baroque period, small 'cellos, often with 5 strings, were possibly even more common than their larger cousins. It is believed that when J.S. Back wrote his 'cello pieces, many of them virtually impossible to play on a full-size 'cello, he was really writing for the smaller instrument, just a bit larger than a huge viola, now called Violoncello da Spalla, which tend to be, at least in contemporary replicas, in the size range of 1/10 to 1/8 size cello. The name “Violocello da Spalla” literally means “'cello of the shoulder.” The Italian name certainly sounds a lot cooler than its English translation, something that the original purveyors of “chincellos”, Bellafina, a Chinese company with an Italian sounding name. We simply call “chincellos” octave violas.
The Violoncello da Spalla is held with a strap around the shoulder and neck, as you can see in one of the photos. The instrument is easily (a relative term) played by violinists and violists. Of course, interest in these newly re-discovered instruments is growing as part of an overall re-discovery of Baroque music and Baroque instruments, particularly the Baroque violin. We see lots of other possibilities beyond the Baroque repertoire. it appears to be an ideal basso continuo instrument for Celtic, Old-time fiddling and various other alternative musical genres.
The Rickert Violoncello da Spalla 16.5 is a very different beast from either our Baroque Violoncello da Spalla or Cello da Spalla Moderno, which are larger instruments with 18" bodies. The Violoncello da Spalla 16.5, from the front, looks pretty much like a 5-string 16.5" viola. A side view shows a very big difference. It has 3" ribs. This instrument, with its massive internal air space, growls with a baritone vengeance. Loud?...YES!
Because of its full-size viola length, one could be tempted to try to play the Rickert Violoncello da Spalla 16.5 under the chin or da braccia (means "on the arm" in Italian). While possible, I suppose, the instrument is intended to be played, as its name implies, da spalla (means "on the shoulder"...specifically the right shoulder, as illustrated by at least one of the photos that are part of this listing.
Learning to play the Violoncello da Spalla
According to known historical accounts, the instrument was invented in order to minimize the learning curve of accomplished violinists and violists. Learning to bow the Violoncello da Spalla does not take much time at all. The Violoncello da Spalla 16.5, as the 18" model as well are both considerably more manageable than larger models that can have bodies as long as 22". Many, if not most, experienced violinists and fiddlers, whose experience is playing the lead melody, will probably have to learn some more about the principles for improvising bass harmony and chords; basically the whole notions of what is called basso continuo. We have already starting outlining an instructional book on this very topic. Note: there are some works, particularly by Bach, which feature the violoncello da spalla as a solo instrument.
Can the Violoncello da Spalla 16.5 by Played Under the Chin?
In some case, yes. You must, however have the necessary arm reach and, how should we say this...a long neck. The ribs on the instrument are 80mm. A shoulder rest is pretty much required; however, NO chin rest would normally be used. We can make a very low custom Sarasate "crescent" type chin rest with the necessary extra long clamps (about $75)
Key Dimensions of the Rickert Violoncello da Spalla Model 16.5:
• The overall dimensions are about the same as a 16.5" viola with the exception of the extremely wide ribs. Overall length: 30 1/8"
• String spacing at the nut: 6mm
• String spacing at the bridge: 11.5mm
Despite its diminutive size compared to a conventional 4/4 ‘cello, the Rickert Violoncello da Spalla has a sound that far surpases a “chincello” and even our own 5-string octave viola (i.e. The B-Rex) with an amazing sonic power and deep timbre approaching that of a full size cello.
Pegs: Unless you, for some reason, desire traditional pegs, the Rickert Violoncello da Spalla is fit with Wittner FineTune internally geared small 'cello pegs.
Strings: The Rickert Violoncello da Spalla is strung with a standard set of octave viola strings
Case: Supplied with a free gig bag and separate bow case, as hard shell cases simply are not made for ‘cellos smaller than ¼ size. We can modify a large viola case for this instrument at a lost of between $400 and $500.
Bow: We will help you to select either a full-size or fractional bow. Since this instrument is considered a "modern' violoncello da spalla, either a modern or baroque bow is acceptable; however, the bow must be a 'cello bow.