Tuesday, 3 June 2008

ChinCello, Life and Music VS "serious" violoncello da spalla

It has been four years ago since the first acoustic chincello left my workshop. It has been made for Sigiswald Kuijken, my music mentor, professor and conductor, whose musical philosophy became my way of life. Since then I made nine instruments for some of the finest performers in the Early Music field. All of these performers share a provocative, intuitive, innovative, spirited approach to music.

When the trend of Early Music was first born it was opposed by the "serious" musicians as n'importe quoi. Yet the time has passed for Early Music too. Today it is nearly as standard as the "serious" classical music, largely dogmatised and nearly as conservative. The result is that serious music has marginalized itself from the rest of the society and music community. This was the intention of the Conservatoir when it was first created, and at last, we can tell the goal has been fully achieved: if the sales figures have anything to tell about it - in 2007 world sales of classical music CD accounted for 3%.

On the 13th of February - what an unlucky number - Tamara Bernstein argued in GlobeAndMail that it is unclear what consequences this innovation shall have on the serious baroque cello world. Four years passed since Sigiswald Kuijken and a few other performers started playing the instrument, yet it is still largely unknown in the "serious" music community. Well, four years in serious music is nothing... opposed to pop-music life cycles which are counted in weeks... probably the same as it has been during Baroque period.

Nonetheless, not everything is so bad for violoncello da spalla. While the "serious" are arguing whether such instrument and the form of expression should live or die a slow death, the pop-musicians take it over, call it a ChinCello and have fun. The Chinese provide thousands of cheap chincellos and a more refined form of it found expression in the carbon-fiber gadgets of electric instrument builders, where the instrument shapes are given full liberty from all established conventions, or sometimes they look almost like angelic instruments from the 16th century paintings. Oh! if Claudio Monteverdi was alive, he should have been enthusiastic about it! At least, we know that he possessed a drawing for a very unusual instrument which, he wrote to his correspondent, could have been successfully used in their music! Obviously we don't have many Monteverdis in classical music world today. However, we do not have only serious music on this planet. In fact, Early Music as I feel it myself is not "serious".

Rewinding back four years, to the time when the first instrument was made, the major obstacle was the fact that there were no strings for it. I wrote to all living string makers in the world. There are not many! Some of them replied that such strings - that is, viola strings sounding an octave lower - are a foolish fantasy. Other string makers replied they can't work on making strings for which there is no market. Probably, they can review their opinions in couple of years from now. However, some string makers tried and succeeded. The most successful was the work of Mimmo Peruffo. I traveled to Italy with my instruments several times to work together with Mimmo on a number of improvements. We made hundreds of experimental strings, many times more than all other string makers together.
It is thanks to his tremendous knowledge, craftsmanship, and passion for music that the instrument has made its way onto the concert stage!

I always believed that modern strings for such a fine instrument must be developed by someone and John Cavanaugh of Super-Sensitive was enthusiastic and helpful. In fact, I use A-string by Super-Sensitive and in such setup my instrument can be heard on all of my recordings. We worked together over a long period of time to improve the strings (they are called Viola Octave), and at last they were brought to a very high standard, nearly ideal on electric chincellos. I use some of Viola Octave strings as a matter of course. All electric and Chinese chincellos today are strung with Super-Sensitive strings and we highly recommend them. At the moment we are still working on further improvements on their Violin Octave and Viola Octave strings.

My article on Violoncello da Spalla - called ChinCello on this blog! - has been published at Galpin Society Journal in England. It can be downloaded from my website upon subscription to my Newletter. It was written for myself as a matter of course in my instrument building. It shall be a heavy and unnecessary reading for those who call the instrument ChinCello!

Google for chincello and violoncello da spalla. It may also pop up under keywords such as viola da spalla or viola pomposa. May your creative spirit thrive!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just purchased a ChinCello from Woodwinds & Brass. I am a violinist who always wanted to play cello and this has gotten me as close as I need to be... it is so much fun and I'm loving the sound. I am trying to read the bass clef as well as I do the treble... way to go there, but the sound is so great that I'm enjoying the process more than I thought I would.