The Illustrated London News of June 27, 1846, accompanying the review of an article about the concerts of the Musical Union, publishes a beautiful engraving: from the left Henry Vieuxtemps, Deloffre, Hill and the cellist Alfredo Piatti, sitting on a high stool and with feet resting on a rudimentary platform.
On the Illustrated London News of March 2, 1872, we find Alfredo Piatti playing in a quartet. It’s been almost 26 years, Piatti is now an established cellist and plays at the Popular Concerts with Lady Norma Neruda, Louis Ries, and Ludwig Straus. His cello is a Stradivarius and the platform appears decidedly more elegant than the previous one, which we still find used in the Popular Concerts of 1885, when, alongside Piatti, there is the violinist Joseph Joachim, the violist Ludwig Straus and the pianists Arabella Goddard and Julius Benedict.
Faced with these images, a cellist attentive to detail cannot fail to be surprised. That Piatti played without a tip, even when already many other cellists used it normally, is a piece of fairly well known news, but that he played sitting on a high stool, resting his feet on a platform, seems to be strange enough.
Today the cellists still play on a platform, but the stool on which the cellist sits is on the platform, and it is very rare that the cellist uses a platform when he plays chamber music. The platform, today, is used mainly when a cellist plays solo with the orchestra. Its function is in fact to amplify the sound of the cello, but also to allow the cellist (obviously seated) to have well centered in his field of view the director (who is standing on a platform).
It is therefore evident that the two images of Piatti evoke questions. Why does he need to amplify the sound of the cello by playing in a quartet? And why does he use a footrest only?
Looking for answers to these questions, we come across two paintings that present both a strange instrument, a cross between a viola da gamba and a cello. The instrument is without a spike and is leaning on a little stool. A century separates one painting from the other, but the resemblance of the two paintings is impressive. It seems that the little stool is always the same, just as two of the painted subjects are identical. [to be continued⇒]