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corilon violins

The Baroque bow (violin bows, part I)

The development of the Baroque violin bow is a story of attempts and errors, an interplay of craftsmanship and music during the course of which widely varied models were designed, modified and improved. When the baroque violin was invented in the late 16th century, the art of creating stringed instruments reached a zenith that triggered a musical revolution. The violin's predecessors were predominantly used to keep time on the dance floors of weddings and festivals, but this newer form of the instrument quickly liberated itself from its disdained origins. At first, however, the early masters of violin making paid no thought to the issue of a proper bow, so people continued to play using the fiddle and rebec bows of the late middle ages. Many of these violin bows were very clearly designed as rhythm instruments. Some of them were only 20 to 30 cm (8-12 inches) and had a strong convex curve; their length was further restricted by the player using an underhand or closed-fist grip.

At first, French Baroque music in particular stayed close to the styles in the canon of dance music, so it had little reason to re-examine how the bow was used and constructed. In Italy, however, there was vivid interest in cantabile playing. People there preferred the overhand grip, which opened doors to new sounds and ways of playing the violin: the “Italian” grip (as opposed to the “French” underhand grip) allowed the player to bow with greater sensitivity and modify the sound. Legato and spiccato techniques became more widespread as music grew more soloistic in nature, and longer violin bows meant that longer tones and sequences were now possible. By composing pieces which relied on the long Baroque bow, Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) made fundamental changes to the character of the violin; its aural ideal came to resemble that of singing more and more.

The introduction of a longer violin bow triggered a series of changes in construction, especially an increase in the height of the head so as to achieve a more even distribution of weight and playability along the full length of the bow. Bows with less of an arch gradually became more popular until eventually the straight to slightly concave line evolved. Players once determined the pressure of the bow by modifying their grip, e.g. by applying pressure with the thumb, but over time, the detachable frog and "toothpick"-style bows made a greater variety in tension possible, until at last the frog with an eyelet and screw established itself as the standard. These technical improvements were accompanied by more sophistication in the aesthetic design of the Baroque bow. Premium woods, especially the very hard amourette, were processed with great artistry, sticks were fluted, and frogs and heads were shaped into fanciful designs and decorated. No uniform standards emerged on a widespread scale, i.e. in this context one cannot speak of there being a typical model of a Baroque bow. What is, however, typical of Baroque-period bows is the diversity of shapes and designs.


Figure 1: Contemporary baroque violin bow by Motek Leeuwarden


Next chapter: The Classical bow

Previous chapter: The violin bow - an introduction

In the Corilon online catalogue you will find historical masterpieces of the art of making bows ...


©Corilon violins

New arrivals in our catalogue:
  • Old German violin after J.B. Schweitzer
  • German violin from Markneukirchen, Hermann Dölling jun.
  • Student violin by Meinel & Herold, Klingenthal
  • Johann Gottfried Hamm, master violin from the Vogtland region, c. 1780
  • Petite Italian violin, late 18th century
  • H. Emile Blondelet, French violin, 1923
  • Antique ornate violin with a lion´s head
  • 3/4 - French violin by H. Blaise
  • Saxon violin after J. Stainer, exceptionally attractive
  • 3/4 - French 3/4 violin of sound
  • Atelier Vigneron Pére, excellent French violin bow  (J.F. Raffin)
  • Baroque viola c1800, from Mittenwald in outstanding original condition
  • Fine French cello bow, Louis Gillet (J.F. Raffin)
  • Didier Nicolas: French master violin, approx. 1820
  • 3/4 - sized violin by J. A. Baader Mittenwald
  • 1/2 - charming red French Mansuy violin
  • Scottish violin by James Hardie & Sons
  • Gotthard Schuster, modern master violin bow
  • Silent violin from France around 1900
  • German violin patterned after Guarneri
  • Contemporary master violin for professionals, Haat-Hedlef Uilderks, Lübeck
  • Petite French viola, P. Cabasse, approx. 1850
  • 1/8  - Rare French 1/8 violin, approx. 1850
  • 1/2 - sized violin by E. R. Schmidt & Co.