A Saxon Cello

Saxon Cello

Posted By on February 17, 2010 | Edit

18th century Saxon cello


18th century Saxon cello

This cello dates from the late 18th Century. It is truly eccentric. How unusual it is to see an old instrument that most emphatically is not modelled after Stradivari, Amati, Stainer or Guarneri. In my view, it’s rather refreshing, too. It is what’s called a lady’s size (I dislike the expression), being larger than a three-quarter but smaller than a normal cello. Its back length is 71.7 cm., but the upper bouts are a little wide in proportion, and the centre bouts seem rather short. The ribs are shallower than normal, too, so the total volume of air inside the instrument is considerably less than standard.

Now, the four models mentioned above seem to work best, most of the time, but even so it is astonishing how few utterly different instruments survive. This is utterly different. And it is a survivor. I purchased it from an antique dealer in 2004, at which time it was in absolutely original condition. Its table had never been removed before, and it had its original late-transitional neck. It sounded simply dreadful. In fact, its poor playing qualities were probably the reason for its little-used condition. I decided to have the neck replaced with a modern component, which may seem like cultural vandalism to some, but dealers have to be pragmatic, and something dramatic had to be done to make it sound and make it sell. The table was immensely heavy, and some judicious re-thickening was done. Of course a new bass-bar was fitted too. After the work was completed, it did in fact become, if not powerful, then surprisingly resonant and pleasant. The new neck meant that the string length became 68.5 cm – only a little less than standard.

It sold quickly, and six years on I was pleased to re-purchase it.

It’s Saxon, of course – the arching is of that type that rises almost immediately from the edges, all the way round, to the same extent, and then flattens right off in an even plateau. The arching is frankly naive. It is covered in a good-quality spirit varnish, mostly yellow, I’m told. But look at those soundholes! Very close to the edges, very sloping, and very long. At first glance they seem so out-of-proportion that one might assume that the entire cello has been reduced in size – but not so. The arching, primitive as it is, has not been compromised, and the ribs have not been cut down. And it is well-made, too – the purfling shows unusual sophistication, in that it is made up of five strands of wood, not three. I can’t find anything like it in any textbook. I’ve no idea who made it.

18th century Saxon cello

Perfect for someone small who wants a good-sounding, mellow, characterful and different cello for chamber music.

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