On the naming of cellos, and other complications

Carbon Fibre and Wooden Cellos
Carbon Fibre and Wooden Cellos

So now I have two cellos. A real one, and a shiny black carbon fibre one.

The real one is about seven years old, although in a way it goes back to 1714. That’s the year Stradivarius put his label in the cello now known as the “Batta”, or “Batta-Piatigorsky” cello. My cello is a very precise copy of it made by Kai-Thomas Roth, in Somerset, in 2014.

Before the Batta, most cellos were significantly larger. Stradivarius himself made about sixty cellos, and two-thirds of them are bigger. But the invention of a different kind of string at the end of the seventeenth century made smaller and less unwieldy – and cheaper – instruments feasible.

Stradivarius was possibly trying to see how small he could make a cello, because the Batta is definitely petite. Even most modern cellos are a bit bigger. Size does matter.

It’s called the Batta because in about 1836 a Dutch cellist called Alexandre Batta acquired it. He was only twenty, and he played it until 1893 when he was forced to sell it. And it’s called the Batta-Piatigorsky because – you guessed it – a very important cellist called Gregor Piatigorsky had it for nearly fifty years from 1956.

You can’t age a cello three hundred years except by playing it for three hundred years. But the perfect copy does, on the other hand, have the beauty of youth. Did I mention that she’s also a little minx? Ah, no – but I’ll get to that.

Many people name their cellos. There’s nothing wrong – imho – with a bit of anthropomorphising. People do it all the time with their dogs. So why not with their cellos? Some cellists will tell you (let me know when this is getting weird) that you don’t actually give a cello a name. You have to wait for the cello to reveal it to you. Which they don’t always do.

It’s well known (so don’t blame me if you didn’t know) that cellos are generally male. They have names like Sebastian (after J.S.Bach, obvs) or Victor. I even once heard of one called Boris.

Unusually, my Batta-Piatigorsky copy is female. She hasn’t revealed her name to me, so she’s generally just referred to as The Lady, or Lady Cello.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when the Lady Cello began to sulk a little after the introduction into our happy household of the Luis and Clark carbon fibre instrument. The carbon fibre cello is, I admit, a bit flirtatious, a bit in-your-face. She has quite stirring curves, and she wears a dazzling little black dress. She shimmers. She isn’t shy in any way.

How could a carbon fibre cello, bought only to save the perfect and delicate Batta from going out in the wind and the rain, and being put in a trailer behind a bicycle… How could such a thing possibly, possibly, displace that Batta from the centre of my affections?

You can’t make a comparison. It’s a completely different category. Be serious. (I’m not saying this to her, but I’m thinking it quite loud).

It didn’t help, of course, that on the very first night, I learned the Luis and Clark’s name. It’s Libre. Pronounced Spanishly, not Frenchly, so something like LEE-bray. Put that in your pipe, eh? Don’t talk to me about complicated. I told you it’s complicated.

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