THE CELLO BEGAN LIFE in the 16th century, as did its sister instruments the violin and viola. Over the years its popularity has increased so much that it's now second only to the violin as a favourite with both string-players and audiences.
In the 19th century some famous concertos and other pieces were written for the cello. Many of these exploited the instrument's unique lyrical qualities, as Saint-Saëns does in his famous melody 'The Swan' from his Carnival of the Animals.
Apart from its role as a solo instrument, the cello has also been a prominent member of chamber groups. In the last three hundred years or so its main chamber role has been as the bass of a string quartet. But before that it had an equally important role as the string bass in chamber music, operas and religious works during the baroque period (in Western classical music this was roughly between 1600 and 1750).
The cello is also capable of considerable virtuosity, as can be heard in the concertos by Dvořák, Elgar and Shostakovich, and in Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations.