12 Famous Cellists Throughout History

If you have ever wondered who the most famous cello players in history are, we have compiled a list of the top twelve famous cellists below. They are the most prominent cellists, dead or alive, both from abroad and within America. The people on this list may be from different countries, modern, or classical, but they all have in common the fact that they are famous cello players of great talent, the best professional cello players in the world.

1. Mstislav Rostropovich

Mstislav Rostropovich, a Russian, is considered as the greatest cellists and conductor. Not only was he a brilliant cellist, but he was also an outspoken proponent of classical music in Soviet Russia during the Cold War.

Rostropovich was born in Baku, Azerbaijan in 1927 to a musical family. His father, Leopold Vitoldovich Rostropovich, was trained by Pablo Casals and was a well-known cellist as well. His mother, Sofiya Nikolaevna Fedotova-Rostropovich, on the other hand was a talented pianist.

Master Rostropovich then went on to study cello at the Moscow Conservatory in 1943 when he was 16 years old. He graduated in 1948 and subsequently become a professor in 1956 in the same school. Rostropovich married Galina Vishnevskaya in 1955.

The contributions of Mr. Rostropovich were not limited in only to enriching cello repertoire. His work also focused on advocating for human rights and in 1974 he received an award of the ILHR (International League of Human Rights).

Mstislav Rostropovich would later die in 2007 while he was being treated for intestinal cancer. While he may have died his legacy will live on and there is a new generation of cellists that he greatly influenced.


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2. Jacqueline du Pré

Regarded as one of the 20th century’s greatest cellists, Jacqueline du Pré achieved mainstream popularity at a young age. She began to showcase her musical talent at only four years old. After hearing the cello being played at a BBC program, she took a keen interest in it and as young as she was, asked her parents to pay for music lessons.

Jacqueline du Pre’ enrolled as a student at the Cello School in London and at the age of ten and won the Suggia Gift Award. This paid for two lessons a week with musical legend, William Pleeth. When she attained the age of sixteen, du Pré made her debut at the Wigmore Hall and thereafter, her career skyrocketed.

She attended musical master classes, and continued to play in many concerts. She married Daniel Barenboim in 1976, a pianist, and they both lived a happy life. A few years later, du Pre’ began experiencing a numbness in her hands as well as her feet which was later diagnosed as multiple sclerosis. Unfortunately, her doctor was sure that she could not play again and in 1977, she put the cello down for good.

On October 19, 1987, having survived 14 years with multiple sclerosis, this amazing cellist died at her husband’s side. She will always be remembered for her romantic and emotive playing style.

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3. Pablo Casals

Pablo Casals was the name taken for his professional career by Paul Casals i Defilló, a Spanish Catalan conductor and cellist. He lived between the years 1876 and 1973, being born in El Vendrell, Spain. Pablo Casals is considered to be among the most famous cello players of the 20th century’s first half. Throughout his prolific career, the musician made many recordings of orchestral, chamber, and solo music. Perhaps, he is best remembered for the recordings of the Bach Cello Suites made between the years 1936 and 1939.

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Casals in 1917 at Carnegie Hall

4. Yo-Yo Ma

Yo-Yo Ma is an American Chinese cellist who is French-born. He was born in Paris, in the year 1955. He was a child prodigy performing from the age of five. Yo-Yo Ma spent his schooling years in the cosmopolitan city New York and graduated from Juilliard School and Harvard University. The cellist has enjoyed a prolific career as both a soloist performing with as both a recording artist and a soloist performing with orchestras around the world. Yo-Yo Ma has recorded more than 90 albums that received 18 Grammy Awards.

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5. Julian Lloyd Webber

Julian Lloyd Webber was born in London, England and has become a famous British cellist, music educator and conductor. He made his professional debut in September 1972, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall where he performed for the first time in London the cello concerto by Sir Arthur Bliss. Lloyd Webber has collaborated throughout his career with a wide variety of musicians, including Lorin Maazel, Yehudi Menuhin, Georg Soltil, Neville Marriner, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Andrew Davis, Yevgeny Svetlanov, Elton John, Stéphane Grappelli, and Cleo Laine.

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6. Paul Tortelier

Paul Tortelier was a French composer and cellist born in Paris. He lived between the years 1914 and 1990. He was gifted with great talent even since his childhood and entered the Paris Conservatoire when he was only 12 years old. Paul Tortelier studied the cello there with Gérard Hekking and Louis Feuillard. When he was only 16, he won the first prize in cello at the conservatoire playing the Elgar cello concerto. When reaching the age of 17, he debuted in 1931 with the Orchestre Lamoureux. After an impressive career start by playing the cello as a soloist in Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote performed under the composer himself and also performing under Arturo Toscanini and Bruno Walter, Tortelier made a name in the history of cello by the teacher of Jacqueline du Pré.

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7. Arthur Russell

Arthur Russell was born in Oskaloosa, Iowa, USA. He lived between the years 1951 and 1992. He was an American composer, cellist, musician, and singer who spanned the genres of classical, folk, experimental, disco, and rock. He was trained in Indian classical music as well as in contemporary experimental composition. In the 1970s and 1980s, Russell found success in downtown New York’s disco and avant-garde musical scenes. He collaborated with notable artists, including Philip Glass, Allen Ginsberg, Bootsy Collins, Jennifer Warness, Talking Heads, and Nicky Siano.

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8. Luigi Boccherini

Luigi Rodolfo Boccherini was an Italian classical era cellist and composer born in Lucca, Italy. He lived between the years 1743 and 1805. While he matured apart from major European musical centers, his music retained a courtly style. He is most known for Cello Concerto in B flat major. Among Boccherini’s musical qualities are a unique ear for sonority and an obsession with soft dynamics. Thanks to his great cello concerts, he was among the most notable influencers of the modern cello repertoire. He is still viewed today as a staple in cello playing.

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9. Jacques Offenbach

The German-born French cellist, composer and impresario of the romantic period Jacques Offenbach was born in Cologne, Germany. He lived between the years 1819 and 1880. cellist and impresario of the romantic period. Showing early musical talent, Offenbach was accepted as a student at the Paris Conservatoire when he was aged only 14. However, he left after a year, founding academic study unfulfilling. Achieving international fame, between the years 1835 and 1855 he earned his living as a cellist.

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10. Pierre Fournier

Pierre Fournier was a French cellist who was born in Paris. He lived between 1906 and 1986. For his majestic sound and elegant musicianship, Fournier was considered as a “cello aristocrat”. The son of a French Army general, he was taught by his mother how to play the piano. However, after a mild case of polo as a child, Fournier lost dexterity in his legs and feet. He turned to the cello because he was having difficulties with the piano pedals. His early training was with Odette Krettly. He studied with André Hekking from the year 1918 and later with Paul Bazelaire. At only 17, in 1923, Fournier graduated from the Paris Conservatory. In 1925, playing with the Concerts Colonne Orchestra, he became well known. After this first success, Fournier began touring all over Europe.

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11. Emanuel Feuermann

Emanuel Feuermann is originally from Kolomyia, Ukraine. He lived between 1902 and 1942. In the 20th century’s first half, Feuermann has become celebrated internationally. His first teacher was his father, a player of the cello and violin. Feuermann also received lessons from the principal cellist of the Vienna Philharmonic, Friedrich Buxbaum, when he was aged nine. Later he studied at the Music Academy in Vienna with Anton Walter. The eleven year old child prodigy made his concert debut in February 1914, playing with the Vienna Philharmonic. He went to Leipzig in 1917, to study with famous cellist Julius Klengel.

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12. Alfred Wallenstein

Alfred Wallenstein was born in Chicago, Illinois. He lived between the years 1898 and 1983. The American conductor and cellist was a descendant of Albrecht von Wallenstein. He joined as a cellist the San Francisco Symphony when he was aged only 17. Before becoming the principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic, he played cello with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Los Angeles Philharmonic. Wallenstein performed often with these orchestras as a soloist. He recorded Strauss’s Don Quixote in 1932 as solo cellist.

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While this list is by no means complete, the twelve cellists above have proven throughout history to be best-in-class cellists. There are hundreds and thousands of amazing cellists in the world, but we can’t possibly list all of them here.

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  1. Jaqueline du Pres is listed among the twelve.
    Today I listened to Anne Klein, a joy to listen, thanks to the modern recording.

  2. An excellent list. I have recordings of about half of these and am now inspired to check out the others. It was great to see Du Pre at number 2, as she is my personal favorite.


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