Violoncello da spalla is a curiosity to stay and here is why.
Our traditional annual response to the international choir of critics since 2004: yes, violoncello da spalla is just a curiosity. Nobody tries to prove the opposite.
This instrument was and is, and will be the part of history of the cello. Violoncello da spalla, commonly called violoncello by most composers including J.S.Bach was conceived as a solo instrument. Anyone telling that there was no such instrument as violoncello da spalla is right. “Da spalla” does not refer to the instrument but to the technique of playing: likewise composers did not specify how the player was expected to hold the violin and in those days the way of holding the violin was far from standardized. Even L.Mozart mentioned two different methods both unlike the modern.
I will not discuss the terminology again. Other names for the cello include violoncello, violone piccolo, bassetto, viola da spalla, viola di collo, violone da braccio etc etc etc, however I must remind that in the 21st century any stringed instrument can frequently be called a “guitar” in many cities on the Earth so let’s not blame the 17th-18th century sources for inconsistency.
Violoncello was a curiosity when it was introduced in the 2nd half of the 17th century, apparently in and around Bologna. Statistical data from the surviving documents suggests that da spalla was the predominant way of playing the violoncello in those days, but I trust it was simply quite a democratic instrument – it could be played either da gamba or da spalla. Anyway, Leopold Mozart, in 1756, mentioned that in his days violoncello was played “also between the legs”, and A.Adlung, being 18-years of age when he might have met J.S.Bach, equated viola da spalla with the violoncello.
Today we call it violoncello da spalla for the sake of differentiation from the common cello. It will never become a common instrument. There will be no spalla courses at conservatoires, spalla tutti jobs at symphonic orchestras, spalla competitions, or spalla professionals. I doubt, however, that da spalla phase will be overlooked again and again in the future tomes on the history of the violoncello. That has probably changed for ever. Additionally when the fractional cellos for kids will finally have professionally sounding strings, it is because of the reintroduction of the violoncello da spalla and now two leading string firms are working on just that.
Due to its affiliation with the violin and cello history and thanks to the music written or arrangeable for it – it will surface every now and then and there will always be a tiny group of soloists among soloists curious enough to explore what else they can do in music. Soloist is a curiosity, though a very serious commitment, and it is just good the way it is.