The cello, originally called the violoncello, is about twice as large as the violin and has four strings tuned an octave lower than those of the viola. As the bass viola da bracchio it was originally tuned a tone lower than it now is, but the present tuning had become standard by 1700. Because of its size, it is played between the knees like members of the viol family. The bass viol was favored for solo playing in the 17th and early 18th cent., and the cello became an important solo instrument only after the disappearance of the viols and the subsequent refinement of cello technique by Jean Louis Duport (1749–1819). The cello was, from its beginning, an important member of the orchestra and is also indispensable in chamber music. It now has an extensive solo literature of its own.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.