Danetkas – Music Stories

“A musician had a plan to get out of poverty. It failed, but he ended even richer than he anticipated”

Episode 9 - Mission Impossible - the baroque cello (ft. Sanna Gillerfors)

Short Summary

In this episode of the Danetkas podcast, host Francisco Chaves introduces a riddle involving a musician’s failed plan to escape poverty, which unexpectedly leads to riches. The musician, a luthier, successfully robs a musical museum, stealing a valuable cello. However, upon falling in love with the instrument, he chooses to keep it instead of selling it, thus becoming richer in spirit rather than wealth. 

The episode then transitions to an interview with special guest Sanna Gillerfors, a Baroque cellist from Sweden. They discuss the differences between Baroque and modern cellos, including string materials, instrument setup, and playing techniques. Sanna shares insights into Baroque music’s emphasis on “speaking quality” and the use of unequal bowing techniques.

Additionally, Sanna reflects on her personal journey into specializing in Baroque cello performance and highlights the unique characteristics of Baroque music and instruments.

Hello and welcome to the Danetkas podcast. I am your host, Francisco Chaves, and today we will play the Danetka “Mission Impossible”. We will also have a special guest which I will later introduce in the episode.

A musician had a plan to get out of poverty. It failed, but he ended even richer than he anticipated. In the image we see many instruments, mostly string instruments, maybe violins or violoncello or a contrabass, and they seem to be kind of displayed, like in a shop for example. What was the plan and how could the musician ended up richer if the plan failed? I will now read the Rigolettos, the secret hints that will help us solve this riddle.


First Rigoletto:  With my musical knowledge, I might become a good criminal. So apparently this musician wants to use his musical knowledge to become a criminal. What might he do? Maybe he will steal something.

Second Rigoletto: why rob gold when there are more valuable things?

Third Rigoletto: It’s so good that I don’t want to give it away. What did you think happened? You can pause the audio and try to figure it out for yourself.


The answer:  A poor luthier planned to get rich by robbing a musical museum. Since he was an instrument maker, he knew which instruments were the most valuable to steal. The robbery went perfectly and he stole a very expensive cello. He fell in love with the instrument. Instead of selling it, he decided to keep it, choosing the instrument over money. So did you get it right?

Did you know there were museums dedicated to preserving and showing ancient instruments? You might ask now, who was after all this robber? What was his name? When was he born? Where was he born?

This character doesn’t exist. This has been a fictional danetka based on historical musical facts. So my special guest for today is Sanna Gillerfors, she is from Sweden, a Baroque cellist and also organist.

F: Welcome Sanna.


S: Thank you very much.

F: So, what do you think of this story? Would you choose a cello over money?

S: hahaha, I can´t say I wouldn’t.
F: You can’t say you wouldn´t.

F: So I introduced you as a Baroque cellist. For listeners who are interested to hear, what is the difference between a Baroque cellist and a normal cellist?

S: Yes, the Baroque from 1600 to 1750. The cello was developing at that time. People were playing a lot of different instruments and only 1665, I think. Exactly that date? In 1665 was the first mention of the word violoncello. The instrument was developed around that time. There were a lot of different names for different bass instruments played with a bow, but this was the first time violoncello was mentioned. At that time, it also had many different variants. It could have a different number of chords. It could have different sizes.

F: So there was not a universal thing called cello?

S: No, it was developed during the Baroque and we more and more went towards this four stringed instrument of this, as we say today, normal size.

F: For clarity, then the Baroque cello also has four strings like a normal cello and is the same size as a normal cello? Exactly.

S: Exactly. So the Baroque cello is about the same size as today. What differs from a modern cello is visually the most obvious is that it doesn’t have an endpin. This was not yet developed and the instruments didn’t have steel strings. It had gut strings. Some of them could be metal wound, but the strings are made from the intestines of animals.

F: If I put those strings on a modern cello, I cannot say that I’m playing Baroque cello just because I use those strings. So I cannot put those strings on a modern instrument. No, you cannot.

S: No, you cannot. To make a so-called historical setup on your instrument, there are several things. Also for the Baroque strings, the gut strings, they are weaker in a way. They are organic. One of the other things which differs is the angle. So the neck of the cello is lower. The bridge, the middle wooden part of the cello, it’s lower on a Baroque cello, which means that the tension is lower than with in a modern cello when you use metal strings.


F: So your technique will change a bit?

S: Yes, and this also has the effect that the pressure on the instrument is much less with a Baroque cello, which also makes that the sound is less.

F: And you mentioned the endpin. What is the function of the endpin?

S: The endpin was not yet invented. There are images where people played with some kind of endpin or a stool under the cello where they put it, or people even stood up to play the cello or had the cello on something. But the endpin was not yet standardized. It came later when you needed more support to go into higher positions and also when you needed more sound, because the endpin strengthens your possibilities.

F: I thought the endpin was only for comfort. How does it change your sound, the endpin, actually?

S: When the pin is in the floor, it also has done an acoustical effect.

F: I never thought about that actually. It would resonate difference, because I thought it was just mainly for support, like the same way that guitarists sometimes use a foot stool, the classical ones. So that’s very interesting.

S: It’s a lot for comfort, but also when you play the Baroque cello, you need to rest it on your legs, and this also dampens the sound.

F: Isn’t it uncomfortable to play the Baroque cello then?

S: No, one would think, but actually you just put your legs in a comfortable position and then you just place the cello on top. Normally you’re not supposed to have to tense your legs or to pressure to the cello. You just merely put it there.


F: But you don’t adopt that position to play modern cello?

S: No, I don’t.

F: Okay, okay, because sometimes in guitars, if I make like a comparison with the guitars, when you see flamenco guitarists play, they play with a different posture than classical guitarists. Even though the instrument is, let’s say, 95% the same. So I think with the guitars, there’s also these different postures. That’s also interesting that in cello, like Baroque cello, modern cello, you also have different postures for playing the instrument. So there is no correct posture.

S: No, there isn’t. With Baroque cello, there were many different options. And now it’s more standardized how you sit, but there are still quite a lot of variants of how to keep your legs in your feet. With a modern cello, because of the endpin and the angle, it invites you to put your legs down.

F: Okay. And for Baroque cello, it’s like in this story, it was a very expensive cello. So now the question is for Baroque cello, do you do people play mostly on replicas? Because I would imagine an original one would be super expensive?

S: Yes, there are older instruments that are played, but not a lot of them. If instruments are several hundred years old, which doesn’t happen a lot that they are saved for this time, then they are also normally renovated to suit the time. So if somebody played the instrument only 200 years ago or 100 years ago, the instrument would most likely have been remade to suit that time. So it would no longer look as it did in the Baroque time. So therefore, it’s quite unusual, but there are instruments which from that time, which are played today, but most of them are replicas from older instruments.

F: And those replicas, I would imagine are more expensive than a normal cello? Are they very expensive? Do you have to rent them out or is it a factor?

S: You mean because it’s an older…

F: The making of a cello, I would say, is not as standardized as a modern cello, right? They have everything, make everything from scratch, maybe…

S: Actually, there are luteers who, are specialist on this, and also modern cellos often have their base in the shape of, for example, a Stradivarius cello. So I wouldn’t say they are more expensive. It’s in a way the same thing.

F: That surprises me a lot because I would imagine that a Baroque cello replica would be more expensive than a modern cello.

S: Actually, no. One of the differences between when playing on historical instruments and not is also your priorities. And maybe for a modern cellist, the priority is often a lot of sound and a beautiful sound. Yeah, so luthiers nowadays, they go a lot for that, but luthiers of Baroque instruments, they just have different priorities.

F: I understand. And have you played on original Baroque cellos from like 300 years ago, museum pieces or something like that, or have you only played in modern replicas?

S: No, I haven’t. I’ve played old instruments, but not that old.

F: When you mean old, you mean like 100 years old, let’s say. So it’s not… Okay, so it’s old, but it’s not from the Baroque era.

S: Exactly.

F: You notice a difference between like an old one under your cello and a modern, let’s say modern, new cello?

S : I do. I, for a long time, have played an instrument which is about 100 years old. and what is obvious is that it has personality directly. If you buy new instruments, then you need to play it since it’s wood, it’s a living thing, which changes. You need to, I don’t know how to say, you need to play it in.


F: Yeah, you need to play it in. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s a kind of a bit the same with the guitars. It seems like, for example, some guitars need a bit of time to develop, to open when you buy them new or they’re freshly made.

S : You can play it to open the sound and to form the sound.

F: Yeah, my teacher at the time was always telling me I should play super loud the guitar. It’s like, if you don’t play loud, the guitar will not develop, will not open.

S : Yeah, that you can do. So if you buy new instruments, then it doesn’t, it’s not formed yet. You need to form it and it will, it might not sound so good from the beginning. It might need some time and it might also adjust to how you play it more than an old instrument. What’s interesting about that is that in the Baroque times, most instruments were new instruments. So I might feel more immediately comfortable on an old instrument, but maybe in a way it’s more historical to play a new one, form with an old shape.

F: That’s very interesting. You play in ensembles a lot. Yes. And you play baroque music with other musicians who play baroque instruments, correct? Yes. Do you notice a bit difference in their technique in the way of playing, perhaps?

S: Yeah, the instruments are often very different than the technique also. And also the playing styles, because in the Baroque time, you, you had other priorities while playing. You went after certain sounds and other sounds than you do now. In Baroque, you often speak about speaking with a sound rather than playing sometimes. So these are qualities that are easier on historical instruments, historical spring instruments, for example, than modern instruments. So they are adjusted to do what you wanted in the Baroque time. Now we say that our instrument, we could say that instruments today are getting better and better, but probably the instruments in the Baroque time was exactly what they wanted.

F: So this question of getting better is very subjective?

S: Yes, it is. But to answer your question, yes, the technique varies a lot. For example, I did a master’s in Baroque cello and that is a specific education rather than modern cello. And it’s the same for basically all other instruments. So it changes a lot the technique. It goes for all spring instruments and maybe wind instruments even more.

F: It’s a very specialized field. Yes, it is. In the podcast, I usually always put a recording of the topic we are discussing. Do you want maybe to recommend like a musician or a piece or an ensemble that you like that play Baroque instruments and that you think, oh, wow, this ensemble sounds amazing. And you maybe would like to recommend it to our viewers?

S: Yes, I would like to do that. I will let you listen to a movement from cello sonata by Geminiani. It’s Italian music and it’s very emotional music. The Italians let it all out and the music shows that.

F: We will now listen to the second movement of sonata opus 5 number 3 in C major by Francesco Geminiani. The cellist is Gaetano Nassillo and in the harpsichord we have Jesper Christensen.



F: What made you actually go for the Baroque cello and specialize in that?

S: The first time I really met Baroque music was already in pre-conservatory times. Yeah, with time I discovered how much I loved it and I wanted to specialize in this, but mostly people educate themselves in modern instruments first and then specialize. So I did a whole modern cello education before specializing.

F: Which is the normal thing to do.

S: Which is the normal thing to do, yes.

F: So as a teenager, you already listened like and experienced the baroque cello.

S: Yes, I did. And then more and more I discovered that when baroque music is played with historical intentions, I knew this is something I want to focus more on.

F: That sounds great. That sounds great. Is there something else that people should know about the Baroque cello or about the Baroque instruments or ancient instruments in general?

S: About the music. I find it very interesting that they went a lot for this speaking quality and you can also see that on the cello and especially the bow because the bow before was much lighter at the tip, for example, than in the frog, the beginning of the bow. So when you play you surely have a very down bow and up bow which we use in the music, which we use to play this music as opposed to a modern cello bow which also has a heavier tip. So the idea today is to play more equal and to be able to do the same thing down bow, up bow, down bow, up bow. I find this interesting.

F: Okay, we forgot to say that the bow is also different. So not only the Baroque cello, we also have the Baroque bow. So we didn’t mention this before but also yes, very interesting to mention that the bow is also different.

S: Yes.

F: So and there is this “inegealité”, an equal thing about down and up bow. Exactly. A modern cello, you don’t want that thing.


S: In modern cello you search for equality to a much larger extent and in Baroque music you wanted a more speaking quality. So you actually use this inequality for the bow that a down bow and an up bow sounds naturally very different. So you don’t fight for this equality which you often want in modern cello playing.

F: I see so many similarities with guitar actually when we talk about this because when I was a guitar student you have like the different fingers, we play with four fingers and they all have different qualities and you can hear them and the guitarists practice are that you don’t hear the difference.

S: Exactly.

F: The thumb always sounds very different no matter what you do, so the thumb will sound different but the other three you have to get them equal.

S: Yeah.

F: So you don’t know with which finger you’re playing.

S: No, exactly.

F: That’s how modern guitars, yes.

S: Exactly, this would be the same thing but for guitarists.

F: Yes, so I see so many similarities. Thank you so much Sanna.

S: Thank you.

F:It was so interesting and have a nice day.

S: You too.

F: And I wish you a nice day.

M: You too.