Violoncello da Spalla for Philip B. (initial deposit only)
Violoncello da Spalla for Philip B. (initial deposit only)
For Philip B. ONLY. If you are interested in this instrument and current pricing, please see:
Announcing the Long-Awaited Violoncello da Spalla by D. Rickert
Over the past year, we received a number of inquiries about the violoncello da spalla. Recently, we started making them on a custom basis. We, in fact have a healthy backlog of commissions for these instruments. We decided that the time is right for the violoncello da spalla as a standard product offering. Ours is a meticulously replica of an 18” violoncello da spalla in proper Baroque configuration. While the instrument is built for gut strings, it can be strung with more trouble-free and sonorous modern synthetic core (i.e “Perlon”) strings.
Background: What is a Violoncello da Spalla?
The violoncello da spalla (Italian for “cello of the shoulder”) was, until fairly recently, a 5-string instrument of the violin family from the Baroque period that had fallen into obscurity. It is a small instrument, about the size of a modern 1/10 size cello, that is tuned to C, G, d, a, e’ (i.e. like a cello with an additional string on the treble side that is tuned to e’, which is an octave lower than the e” string on a violin)
It is thought by many that the violoncello da spalla was invented, or at least perfected, by the German luthier, Johann Christian Hoffman, a contemporary and probably a close friend of Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach’s purported close relationship with J. C. Hoffmann has led to a now popular theory that Bach had a hand in the invention of the violoncello da spalla. This belief continues to be debated by experts who study the history of musical instruments.
Anyway, what is now widely regarded as the primary candidate for distinction as the original violoncello da spalla, having been previously misclassified as either a viola pomposa, viola da spalla or piccolo cello, was made in 1732 by Hoffmann. It is this instrument that, today, is the de facto “gold standard” for a proper violoncello da spalla.
The modern resurrection of the violoncello da spalla, and widespread attribution of the instrument’s invention to Hoffmann, is due largely to the Russian-Dutch luthier and media celebrity, Dmitry Badiarov. Badiarov, based in The Hague, introduced his first violoncello da spalla in 2004, essentially after Hoffmann, albeit, considerably more refined than the original 1732 instrument. While Badiarov, and his collaborator, Sigiswald Kuijken, are more well-known, it was earlier research by the Dutch violinist and violist, Lambert Smit, that laid the groundwork for Badiarov and others involved in the resurgence of the violoncello da spalla. Smit is regarded by many as the true father of the modern revival of the violoncello da spalla. Indeed, it was Smit who first posited the involvement of Bach, himself, in its invention. It was Smit who surmised that Bach’s Cello Suites and Cantatas were written, not for the full-size 4-string cello, but rather for the much smaller 5-string violoncello da spalla.
Since 2004, the violoncello da spalla has grown exponentially in popularity, largely due to Badiarov’s tireless ongoing research, teaching and publishing. Of, and he also has made quite a few of these unique and very cool instruments for world-famous musicians.
How is the Violoncello da Spalla played?
The violoncello da spalla has been described as a bass for violinists. Unlike the 5-string chin cello, a.k.a. the 5-string octave viola (see image below),
the violoncello da spalla is held across the chest, secured with a strap around the shoulder and neck, as you can see in in the photos below of Lambert Smit and Dmitry Badiarov.
The violoncello da spalla is easily (a relative term) played by violinists and violists. Indeed, experts believe that the instrument was invented in the early 1700s in order to minimize the learning curve of accomplished violinists and violists desiring to play a baritone range instrument.
Learning to bow the Violoncello da Spalla does not take much time at all. That being said, any, if not most, experienced violinists and fiddlers, whose experience is primarily in playing the lead melody, will probably need to brush up on their music theory, particularly the principles for improvising baritone/bass harmony and chords. Put another way, they will have to learn the mostly lost art of basso continuo. Of course, there are many fully-scored solo pieces for violoncello from the Baroque period, especially by J.S. Bach.
Interest in these newly re-discovered instruments is growing as part of an overall re-discovery of Baroque music and Baroque instruments, particularly those played with a bow.
Description of the Violoncello da Spalla by D. Rickert and its Options
Our violoncello da spalla is based on measurements taken from the surviving instrument by Johann Christian Hoffmann (1732). As would be expected, our Violoncello da Spalla is 5-string instrument with a body length of 18 inches (14.5cm). It is tuned to C, G, d, a, e’. In other words, the tuning is the same as a full-size cello, but with an additional string on the treble side that is tuned to e’ (an octave lower than the e” string on a violin). It is held across the chest, suspended by a strap around the players neck, not unlike a modern guitar, but much closer to the chin (see the images above).
Approximate Critical Dimensions
- Overall length: 30” (75cm)
- Body length: 18” (45.5cm)
- Upper bout width: 8.25” (21.5cm)
- Lower bout width: 10.25” (26cm)
- Ribs: 3.15” (8.0cm)
- Playable String length: 16.53” (42cm)
- Note about string length: The playable string length of this instrument requires a slightly disproportionately long neck length when compared to the “ideal” string and neck lengths of a modern 1/10 size cello or an 18” viola.
A number of varnish options are possible. In all cases, the varnish is old-school hand-rubbed oil over an insulation layer of collagen (hide gelatin) and various mineral grounds.
Some players prefer the minimally pigmented varnish treatment of the surviving Hofmann instrument, which is shown below.
|Alternative 1||Alternative 2||Alternative 3|
Other possibilities are illustrated in the images of some of our other Baroque instruments shown below. The varnish on these instruments is achieved by various combinations of amber, brown and red pigments.
Historically Correct Middle to Late Baroque Period (1700 to 1750) Setup
Micarta synthetic ivory nut and saddle
- Micarta is a synthetic material that has the appearance of ivory. It is slightly softer than ebony and, thus, much kinder to gut strings. Further, ivory is absolutely banned worldwide!
Baroque type pegs (no ivory ring!)
- If you want an “ivory” ring, it will have to be painted on, as even mammoth (i.e. “fossil”) ivory is illegal in many states as well as foreign countries.
True veneered spruce Baroque fingerboard
A proper Baroque fingerboard is not made from either solid ebony or maple. Rather, it has a core of quarter-sawn spruce, which is then clad with thick veneers (2mm to 3.5mm) of various woods, including ebony and figured maple. The fingerboard options are illustrated in images of our Baroque violins below.
|Plain Ebony||Ebony w/Maple Border||Dark Maple w/ Natural Maple Border||Natural Maple w/ Dark Maple Border|
True Baroque tailpiece
A Baroque Tailpiece can be made from solid ebony or boxwood; however, Baroque tailpieces are more often made from maple, which is then veneered to match that of the fingerboard (see the images above).
Correct bridge for a violoncello da spalla
The correct bridge is best described as a hybrid between an extra-wide (for 5-strings) viola bridge and an extra-wide cello bridge. There are no commercial manufacturers of blanks for such bridges; therefore, we make them for each individual instrument in our workshop.
The standard string set for our Violoncello da Spalla is designed to achieve a balance between period authenticity and sonority/playability/practicality, as well as reasonable cost for replacement strings. The highest strings (e’, a and d) are gut, while the g and C strings are wound high-carbon steel strings with a tension that is identical to wound gut strings.
If you want all five strings to be gut, let us know and we can discuss the matter. As a heads-up, a set of strings that are all gut can cost more than $600! You should know that gut G and d strings for an instrument of this size have very large diameters (up to 3mm+) and are prone to breakage.
As part of the purchase, we will provide a high-quality padded soft case. Based on our prior discussions, the current plan calls for a custom-made case that fits the instrument perfectly and is no larger than it needs to be, such as would be a 1/4 size cello case (the smallest non-custom cello case available anywhere) with extra internal padding. The custom case will have a plan profile slightly larger than a shaped viola case. It, however, will be considerably deeper than a viola case. All matters related to the custom case are separate from this transaction.
- The bow is your responsibility. If you should desire, we will find you the best deal possible for a Baroque cello bow in whatever price range you desire. The least expensive suitable bows start at about $450.
Where the instrument is to be made
Per our email and other communications, every attempt is being made to have the base instrument (unfinished body and scroll only) constructed by a European workshop with documented master level skills and experience in building similar instruments (e.g. 1/10 size cellos). If such is not found, we would only engage our recently adopted partner workshop in Hong Kong, but ONLY with your unequivocal and explicit approval. We expect to know whether we have a European part by the end of the week of March 4, 2018.
The most critical work, including graduation, carving and setting the neck, varnishing, fingerboard, etc. will be done in our workshop, which is located in Hiawassee, Georgia, USA. Some special work, such as plate and bass bar tuning may be done in the workshop of a colleague and business partner, Shay Garriock, S. G. Music, Pittsboro, North Carolina. Shay is set up with special high-tech equipment for performing acoustic analysis on musical instrument components.