Early Treatise for “Violoncello”

The late 17th Century was the time for the violoncello to make its rise to prominence. At least in the realm of bassie-type instruments that could double as solo instruments.

By the time the early cello virtuosos were dying off–mid to late 18th Century–there were arising Treatises and Methods for their instrument. Some of those intrepid path-clearers, who also composed a significant amount of music, wrote their own methods. Romberg being one of the latter. (Of whom I made a podcast episode about.

Listen in here:

This post is about a treatise for violoncello probably published after 1783. This 43 page work in question is the Broderip & Wilkinson’s Complete Treatise for Violoncello. The subheading reads Containing the Newest and most established Methods of Fingering, together with excellent Examples by the late Mr. Cervetto. Although it is not apparent to me that there is a known date for the treatise, I can be reasonably sure it was after 1783. In the subheading is referenced Mr. Cervetto–Giacobbe Basevi Cervetto–who died in 1783.

This treatise is really fantastic in my little world. I realize that I am hardly the first to “re-discover” it since I recently also have seen it being referred to in several modern books about the history of violoncello. I “discovered” it because I was reading a book about the history of the cello, but it happened to be written in the late 19th Century, just 100 years after Broderip & Wilkinson’s Treatise.

Here are several reasons that prodded me on in the reading and studying of this treatise from the 1700’s. First, it provides a curious insight into the way people approached the informing and (loosely) teaching of the cello 200+ years ago. Second, the section on Graces (ornamentation) was helpful in informing me about how to execute some of the trill types of the time, i.e. Baroque ornamentation. (It is certainly not exhaustive nor specific to musical examples, but it does provide a learner some basis from which to proceed.) Third, therein are Contained…Excellent Examples for practicing fingering, bowing, and general musicality. Fourth, there are exercises and musical examples by the well-known Giacobbe Basevi Cervetto, who was a prominent, Italian cellist living in England for the last half of his life.

Partial Title Page and Example

As can be seen in my most recent video upload, I make attempts at the trills and turns illustrated in the image above. One can ascertain, providing one watches more than 10 secs of video (or maybe one knows from just that 10 secs), that it is a badly presented, poorly played example. Despite that, I press on, for the sake of my interest in music. The excerpt you see above shows the learner how to execute trills and turns. Those can be, presumably, transposed to any note and played in the same manner.

Watch most recent video at either location.

An upcoming video (and podcast episode) will showcase my feeble attempts at playing some exercises and musical examples. I will also highlight the fact that they utilize the “unrefined” and “lowly” common music such as Folk tunes. It is eye-opening to see a well-known publisher pulling tunes outside of the Classical realm into the material for teaching beginners. This, to my mind, should give us some reason to look a little more kindly on the early musicians.

Although it is only a small example, it gives rise to the thought that just maybe they were more inclusive with the selections than most of us think. (I wonder if any of the prominent musicians back then played Folk music. I don’t recall reading anything that would suggest it but one does get curious.)

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