Inside the Music | Bowmaking | Early Baroque | Classical
In the early Baroque bow, the horsehair (which strokes the string and produces the sound) was fastened at the hand end, known as the ‘heel’, by an immovable ‘nut’ or ‘frog’, a kind of clip. During the seventeenth century, makers developed a frog in which the mechanism for attaching the horse hair could be released and then clipped back into a different notched position. This kind of ratchet system was abandoned in about 1700 and the earliest known bow to use the modern system, varying tension by means of turning a screw to draw the nut backwards in a groove, dates from 1694.
Styles of bowing changed as the bows themselves changed. The early Baroque cello, for example, seems to have been played either with the bow held palm-upwards, in the manner of a viol, or palm-down but with the hand as much as a quarter of the way along from the heel. During the eighteenth century, the balance of the bow changed, with the centre of gravity moving towards the heel. As a result, while the palm-down position won, the grip had to shift back to the heel. As the bow and bow-hold both developed, so greater control of the instrument became possible.
The most famous name in the history of bowmaking is that of François Tourte (1747–1835). During his lifetime the bow became concave, and the modern forms of the point and the frog were designed. The length was finally fixed at about 75 cm (30 in) for the violin, with the viola a little shorter and the cello a little shorter again. Tourte’s bows were made not of snakewood, which had been used earlier, but of pernambuco, a South American hardwood.
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