Chapter 2.4

The violin bow

The violin is the king of the stringed instruments. Just as one feels attracted to the cello, in the same way one feels overwhelmed by the violin. The violin is perfect, was already perfect when the 18th century began, and nothing in particular has been added to it since. The same applies to the bow. Since Tourte and Peccatte there has been no further development, at least none that I would regard as improvements. Since then there have been bowmakers who did tidier work, but without better results in tone and playability than the bows of the old masters. To be sure, good originals have become so expensive that bows made today can be worth their price. A good Tourte is about 20 times more expensive than anything the best contemporary maker dares to ask. This really is disproportionate.

In itself, the violin is loud enough relative to the other instruments that a violin bow need not be especially heavy. Light bows have the virtue of speedy and nimble response. Violinists often have rapid, virtuoso passages to play. It is therefore important to have a bow adequate to the technical demands, that bounces well and has a clear response. Unlike the larger instruments, most violins tolerate a short response without sounding dry.

But what the violin needs above all is a lot of damping. On the one hand, the violin has to damp out the shrill tones, on the other it needs to shift from a rapid spiccato to a legato without unnecessary vibration, and then come to rest again as quickly as possible.

For a bow to bounce well it needs a big camber and a lot of tension on the hair. For a sweet and quiet legato, it needs the opposite, a small camber and less tension. For rapid, rhythmic articulation it needs a short response. But this often results in a harsh tone. The many contradictory demands made on bows in general are hardest to reconcile in a violin bow. A good violin bow can only be made of the best and most elastic wood.

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