There are many great cello players out there, but to really understand the history of the musicians, one must first become familiar with the instrument itself.
At first, the cello did not enjoy the celebrity status it does today. It was seen as a more insignificant member of the quartet and symphony. There was not a great deal of solo work written for it at the outset of its existence. This would eventually change of course, and the most important work written for the cello was Johann Sebastian Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello.
Bach himself was a multi-instrumentalist and cellist, and for his composition of the Six Cello Suites, can arguably be said to be the first great cellist. The 6 suites each consist of 6-8 movements, and each suite is in a different key. No one had created as prolific a work exclusively for the cello until Bach, yet the piece went largely unnoticed when it was written in the early 18th century and was soon forgotten.
Fast forward to the late 19th century to when a young cellist named Pablo Casals first discovered the Bach suites. Casals was a young Spaniard, who would make the Bach suites famous. His expressive and often times idiosyncratic style brought him world-wide acclaim, and he was one of the earliest true cello virtuosos.
Sadly, the recordings that remain today of much of Casals’ performances are of very poor quality. It is still possible to hear the range and depth of his playing, but the recordings are marred by scratches and pops.
While Casals played in a more brusque and masculine manner, Jacqueline Du Pre paved the way for female cellists. This is not to say the Du Pre’s playing is not strong, but there is a certain sensitivity and thoughtfulness to her style that is distinctly feminine.
Mstislav Rostropovich is considered by many to be the greatest professional cello for sale of the 20th century. His bold playing style and voracious appetite for new works led him to commission and debut over 100 new works for the cello. Rostropvich was not only a great cellist, but a conductor as well, and earned as much fame as a conductor as a soloist.
In modern times there are many great cellists who have branched out from the classical music that the instrument is best known for. Modern day cellists like Mark Summer use techniques borrowed from Jazz bass, and pluck and slap the instrument to further diversify its sound.
The cello is one of the most beautiful instruments, due to its similarity to the human voice. There are many great cellists, and this is just a brief examination of some of the best cello players.