SOME INFORMATION ON ‘CELLOS AND GAMBAS’ AND A NOTE ON THEIR USE
From feedback received I can see I need to explain a bit more. Both instruments function as providing the bass for the higher pitched string instruments The ‘Cello is a stringed instrument belonging to the violin family and is bass of that family. Not the double bass (*) The Gamba short for ”Viola da Gamba” is the largest and deepest pitched – the bass instrument of the viol family. It is the ancient instrument and the Cello is the ‘interloper’. In the old days rich people would have had a “chest of viols”)
Both instruments perform the same function as a bass for the higher pitched string instruments of their own family. The Gamba would serve perfectly well as the bass for the violin family as well as for its own family.
The Gamba has five strings tuned mainly in fourths whereas the ‘Cello has 4 strings tuned in fifths. Usually the ‘Cello is normally played supported by a spike on the floor where as the Gamba is held between the performer’s knees.
A very important difference is that the finger board on the Gamba is fretted (like a guitar) and with strings stopped against a fret. This makes a big difference to the timbre. You could almost think of a Gamba as being a very large guitar held vertically and played with a bow.
Another big difference with the Gamba is because of the fretted fingerboard, no vibrato of the violin type is possible. Although in any case vibrato was little used in Baroque times, even on instruments which lent themselves to it such as the ‘Cello’.
So I was puzzled why Bach who was so short of instruments for performing his music had both Gamba and a ‘Cello’ in his orchestra.
I went around asking everybody every “third person” I met until I got the answer
Meantime I had formed my own hypotheses:-
Studying the score of works such as the St Matthew Passion and looking at the part for the Gamba is clear that it would be very awkward, (especially in a sequence of chords), and sometimes not just awkward actually impossible to play on a Cello.
But I eventually found an expert who told me the correct answer that Bach reserves the ethereal sound of the Gamba for the time of Christ’s death in all his Sacred works.
My hypothesis while correct as far as it goes could not be the correct answer because once Bach had decided the party was for Gamba he would write chords which could be played on the Gamba and similarly for the Cello.
- THE DOUBLE BASS BELONGS TO NEITHER THE VIOLIN NOR THE VIOL FAMILY BUT HAS SOME FEATURES OF EACH. IT IS ABSOLUTELY WRONG TO REFER TO THE DOUBLE BASS AS A BASS VIOLIN. A MISTAKE ON PAR WITH THE JAPANESE CALLING A CORANGLIRS AN “ENGLISH HORN” (CORANGLIRS IS A CORRUPTION OF AN ANGLED [OR BENT HORN]).