The Classical violin bow

The Classical violin bow: consolidating bow design during the Classical period
(late 18th / early 19th century)

The term “Classical bow” does not encompass as broad a spectrum of different styles of bow and variations in structure as the "Baroque bow" does. However, as a term it is almost equally liable to misinterpretation, because like the Classical bow, it describes a canon of certain styles that were still only evolving at the time. Objectively speaking, a more appropriate name is the “transitional bow”: in the history of bow making, the Classical period was a very short one that was open to all influences. It was during this time that advances made in the field were consolidated.

As was the case during the Baroque era, music itself was what provided the main impetus to keep refining the design of the violin bow. While the focus during the 17th and early 18th century was on fulfilling the demands of increasingly challenging compositions which were orientated towards solo performance, the emphasis shifted during the 18th century towards bourgeois concert performance, which called for a powerful sound which could also assert itself in larger spaces. The violin had become established as a solo instrument that had to be able to hold its own in larger ensembles such as symphonic orchestras. The musical world of this day focused more and more on outstanding virtuosi, a trend which was very much in keeping with the rising interest in the principle of genius. The performance style of these virtuosi was defined by a multi-facetted bowing technique. The first name which needs to be mentioned here is the soloist and composer Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824); he is considered one of the fathers of modern violin playing, and his motto “Le violon – c‘est l‘archet!” emphasised the role of the bow like no one else had (except Arcangelo Corelli). The key developments which led from the classical violin bow to the modern violin bow occurred under the influence of Viotti along with other soloists who remain legendary today, such as Rodolphe Kreutzer (1766-1831) and Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840). John Dodd (1752-1839) improved the breaking strength of the stick by introducing a new technique for splitting wood, whereas Christian Wilhelm Knopf (1767-1837) of Markneukirchen invented an underslide of metal, thereby eliminating a critical weak point in the screw mechanism of Baroque bows. The model known as the “Cramer violin bow” became the most popular model among major soloists with its characteristic high and hammer-shaped head, a solid and concave stick and clip-in frog. Ultimately, it was François Xavier Tourte who created a modern violin bow model that perfected the style of the Classical violin bow, and in doing so, he launched a new era.


Related articles:

Overview “The violin bow”

The Baroque bow (violin bows, part I)

John Dodd: a legend of oyster shells and silver spoons

François Xavier Tourte, founding father of the modern violin bow

The Baroque violin - more than catgut strings