Chapter 9

A Maire Bow

Some years ago I was able to acquire a Nicolas Maire bow so badly damaged as to be irreparable. I have to date made several copies of this bow. None of them are perfect, but each time I have made new discoveries in the process of copying it.

Most unusually, the middle part of this stick is clearly oval, but it is wider than high. For many years I thought, that the cross-section of a good bow was round, but this one is a flat oval, just the opposite of the Peccatte bow, where the oval is more like an egg, and both of them are very nice items. Now lets have a look at the cross-section of this Maire bow.

Bowhead 15 30 45 60 cm distance from head
5.8 6 7.5 7.8 8.4 mm vertical heigt
5.4 6.8 8 8.2 8.3 mm horizontal width

Looking at the vertical measurements the bow is very thick behind the head. That would be a healthy measurement for a viola bow. In comparisen to this is the bow extremely thin in the middle of the stick. The horizontal measurements are pretty much what one expects from a good stick. But why made N. Maire this bow so flat oval is the first question.

Obviously the oval form in the middle of the stick lends greater stability to the sides. At the same time the bow retains its vertical flexibility. Near the frog and behind the head, where the oscillation of the stick is very small anyway, the bow does not need lateral stability, hence there is no advantage in making it oval there. So much to the width of this stick.

Let's look at the height. As I already said, this bow is very strong behind the head and very thin in the middle of the stick. This bow is soft in the middle and hard and heavy at the tip. That is nearly a barok concept of a bow. At least in this century all bowmakers try to do the opposite, stiff in the middle and thin at the tip. That makes a bow easier to handle,but for the sound Maire's concept might have some advantages what all those new bows miss. A conical stick damps down the vibration more effectively than a stick where the thickness is overall about the same. Thats why this concept helps to develop a good sound, but technically this bow must be somewhat more difficult. A heavy tip is slowlier in changing strings and if the stick behind the head is stiff the bow doesn't grip the string so well at the tip. Usually a modern bow reacts the most sensitive in the area just behind the head. This bow has its most sensitive spot in the middle of the bow. And that is the spot where the musician plays the most of time. That seems to me an advantage of Maire's concept. Also the rather heavy tip has an importend advantage, the bow lies safely in the string and keeps its direction very well. All this together could make a sweet but a bit lifeless bow. To avoid this there must have been quite a full curve, which the bow probably had. But on my bow the original curve one can only guess. So I assume the bow had quite a full curve, because that way it brings back some lifelyness in the stick, the tension of a full curve helps to create a good spiccato, and the oval form prevents the stick from breaking out to the sides (Which is the danger of a full curve). All together the bow makes a lot of sense.

Are there any disadvantages of this concept ?
After copying the Maire bow a couple of times certain characteristics of tis model became evident. While the sound is full and round and therefore mixes well with other instruments,it lacks penetration. Rather than singing out above an orchestra, it tends to be drowned in it. The player can create a sound that is sweet and noble, but it could benefit from being somewhat more fresh and transparent. The sound carries well, but it is not very loud under the musicians ear, which could be rather a hindrence for orchestral musicians, who need to hear themselfs with a trombone blowing in their ear.
The weight of this bow is at a good medium of 60 gms. It is a little topheavy though, which is not to every player's taste.

From the point of view of aesthtetics, the frog seems to be worked with greater care than the tip. The two sides of the tip differ greatly, the lower surface (where the ivory tip sits on) is lopsided, and the transition from the head to the stick is rather negligently executed.

At this point the interested reader might think : "so maybe this is not a real Maire, after all". But you consider that in those days a bowmaker would have had to make around ten bows a month, it is easy to imagine, that sometimes they were quite pressed for time. Maybe this stick was the last in the series of ten and our master was already bored. Maybe he had also a headache from the sour wine that was consumed in those days.

The bow is mounted in nickel, which then, as today, would have been inexpensive. Quite possibly a dealer from Paris would have bargained the price, so master Maire had to economise on his time and effort.

The butten is quite short in fact, normally they are longer as far as I know. But it is anyway in a poor state. I believe it has been tampered with by some well-meaning, but poor skilled repairer. Therefore I shall not deal with it further.

The frog itself is in mint condition and very carefully made, even though it is mounted in nickel. There is one detail about the way the frog is fitted to the stick, the meaning of which I only understood recentely. With my own models, so far, I have always made the stick a regular octagon, with all sides exactely the same width. This way it was possible to achieve a perfect fit with the button, which is also even-sided.

But on the Maire bow and so many other bows of that period, the eight sides are not the same size. The lowest side - the one that makes the most contact with the stick - is significantly wider than the others.

The reason for this is the lateral stability of the frog. This is important because when a bow is drawn across a string the pressure of the middle finger on the frog, as well as the sideways tilt of the bow while it is being played, conspire to slightly tilt the frog around the stick. - Got it ? If not then read it again. - This results in a lot of pressure being concentrated on one corner of the octagon.

The further out towards the side this corner is moved, the more stable the frog sits on the stick. So that is the advantage of this construction, as disadvantage you could see the fact, that the other two sides which make contact with the stick get smaller and thinner, and therefore more fragil. The corresponding sides of the stick get also thinner, and on one of them the musicians thumb is placed. The broader this side is , the more contact the thumb makes and that gives a safer feeling to the player. On the whole though, it seems that the advantage far outweighs the potential inconvenience.

It is important to understand that a bow is a concept, in which every detail has to contribute to producing a functioning whole. Everything about it has an impact on the result, including how the inside of the frog is made, the shape of the mortice, its place, width and depth, there is always a reason for everything.

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