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GeorgeH

So...Why didn't the Italians make good violin bows, too?

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In the spirit of @Rue's topic, "So...why didn't the Germans keep up with the Italians?," I've always wondered why the Italians did not also make good bows? Or did they?

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They did make good bows , for the day. One thing the Italians lacked was a colonial foot hold in the new world,the source of pernambuco,a superior wood for bows. I suspect also technical advancements made the production of screws and nuts easy and Gluck by the time the modern bow was invented. Playing styles has also evolved placing new demands on bow makers. 

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The French had very little success, excepting French Guiana, in South America. France did, however, enjoy the benefits of excellent shipping and a great Navy to protect it. I suspect that's how they got so much pernambuco. 

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Interest in question, worthy of in-depth research.

I think the Italians knew they had a good thing going and had little interest in branching out. Why experiment with bows when you’re already making violins that are in constant demand?

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Apart from the Wood Import Thing, which I don't think is relevant for the 17th and early 18th century because there was enough Money in Italy at the time, the bow making that is still relevant for players nowadays developed when the glorious times for violin making in Italy were coming to an end, in the latter half or even 25 years of the 18th century. At the end of the 18th century, Italy had diminished as a cultural (an not only that) power, compared to the two centuries before. Before that, Italian bows were not any worse than bows from elsewhere.

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I think it’s important to remember that for centuries bows were treated as accessories to the instrument in the same way as cases. Tourte was one of the first makers to treat the bow as a masterwork of its own, although it took a long time before people considered the bow as an important part of the equation. The French makers, especially those who worked in Vuillaume’s shop in Paris, helped establish the bow’s significance. By the time this happened, the Italian masters had all died and violinmaking had ceased to be a major business in Italy. The French had the market and the innovators producing great bows.

Presently we value bows very highly at the upper middle to high end and take the time to carefully match them with instruments. However, at the lower end, it’s still common practice to sell a cheap bow and case at a discount to make an outfit—in this situation the violin is the only item the purchaser really cares about, and the extras are just incentives to buy all at once and avoid having to take the time to make a choice later and spend a little more. One might justify this by pointing out that cheap bows are mass-produced and don’t have as much individuality as better bows, but because so many customers are introduced to the violin market in this way, the idea that bows and  cases are supplemental is perpetuated and must be argued against some time thereafter. 

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4 hours ago, GeorgeH said:

In the spirit of @Rue's topic, "So...why didn't the Germans keep up with the Italians?," I've always wondered why the Italians did not also make good bows? Or did they?

Italian dudes were highly resistant to the notion of creating sticks which were either better endowed, or better performing than what they had below the beltline. :D

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Bows didn't get much respect from the Hills either. They were sort of used as Loss Leaders to get customers in to look at the Violins at the "posh shop" downtown. It's ironic that Hills has gotten more respect for their bows in the long run. 

I'm also curious about the function of purple dye in all of this. Pernambuco was used as ballast in cargo ships and then sold as a purple cloth dye. purple has always been associated with royalty. The Romans had a monopoly on a certain sea shell for their purple robes which only the senatorial class could wear. When the sea shells became rare??? France had economic relations with Portugal that Italy lacked.

 

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47 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

Italian dudes were highly resistant to the notion of creating sticks which were either better endowed, or better performing than what they had below the beltline. :D

Good point!! :lol:

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In the pre 1800 periods, when bow making was more a side product of violin making, there are (from the very few surviving examples) italian made bows as well as from other countries. When bow making became more and more a specialized craft separated from other making it concentrates in the centres of mass producing, which were Markneukirchen/Vogtland and Mirecourt (with some of the better reputated migrating to Paris). Probably it became uneconomic to do such a highly specialized work elsewhere. Even bow making in Mittenwald vanished in the mid 19th due to the competition from both the other places.

 

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2 hours ago, Wood Butcher said:

So bow makers were failed violin makers?

If that was in reference to my comment, no, not at all, anymore than Winchester was a failed revolver maker, or Colt a failed rifle maker. If you have your hands full making violins, no need to make bows.

I’m sure there were a lot of top makers who were equally gifted as instrument and Bowmakers, But I would imagine that number is a small percentage of the total. I remember a colleague who owned a cello made by Bausch. I remember asking her if it was the same Bausch who made the bows, And she laughed and said that she got that question constantly. Then she said yes. 

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1 hour ago, The Violin Beautiful said:

I think it’s important to remember that for centuries bows were treated as accessories to the instrument in the same way as cases. Tourte was one of the first makers to treat the bow as a masterwork of its own, although it took a long time before people considered the bow as an important part of the equation. The French makers, especially those who worked in Vuillaume’s shop in Paris, helped establish the bow’s significance. By the time this happened, the Italian masters had all died and violinmaking had ceased to be a major business in Italy. The French had the market and the innovators producing great bows.

Presently we value bows very highly at the upper middle to high end and take the time to carefully match them with instruments. However, at the lower end, it’s still common practice to sell a cheap bow and case at a discount to make an outfit—in this situation the violin is the only item the purchaser really cares about, and the extras are just incentives to buy all at once and avoid having to take the time to make a choice later and spend a little more. One might justify this by pointing out that cheap bows are mass-produced and don’t have as much individuality as better bows, but because so many customers are introduced to the violin market in this way, the idea that bows and  cases are supplemental is perpetuated and must be argued against some time thereafter. 

Another great comment. When may we expect the book?

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4 hours ago, The Violin Beautiful said:

I think it’s important to remember that for centuries bows were treated as accessories to the instrument in the same way as cases.

 

Very true. If a wealthy patron ordered a violin (or two) from a prestigious workshop, he expected the whole outfit, not just the violin.

We have more or less established that Stradivari made his own cases to a princely standard and a couple of extant bows lay good claim to having been made by Strad also. The bows, like the cases and fittings were all considered expendable and replaceable so very few remain but here is a bow example .

Glenn

 

241877419_Stradbowjpg.thumb.jpg.b2b8280a5dbefdf8bdf4ea98771b3652.jpg

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15 hours ago, The Violin Beautiful said:

I think it’s important to remember that for centuries bows were treated as accessories to the instrument in the same way as cases. Tourte was one of the first makers to treat the bow as a masterwork of its own, although it took a long time before people considered the bow as an important part of the equation. 

 

Actually FX Tourte was successful and well-known during his own lifetime - he was even known sarcastically as "Tortue" because it took so long to get a bow from him.

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I thought I'd bring up something I found interesting. A Spanish violin historian, Elsa Fonseca, shared some of her research papers with me as she was preparing her submission to the new big book on Contreras and the major Spanish makers, and one point that came through her findings clearly, in the records of transactions between Contreras' shop and the Royal Court, was the regular supply of bows, as though bows were a consumable good like strings. It would seem plausible that until the last part of the 18th century, violin workshops simply made bows or had them made by outworkers to supply with the violins they sold. The first time an independant bow-maker starts to get known among major players is with the Tourte brothers in Paris at a time when Paris was "the place to be" for many violinists from all over Europe. In his memoirs, Ludwig Spohr relates how his Guarnerius was stolen off the back of a stagecoach around 1800, but that he was relieved when he found the case that his 2 Tourte bows were still there!

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5 hours ago, Michael Appleman said:

I thought I'd bring up something I found interesting. A Spanish violin historian, Elsa Fonseca, shared some of her research papers with me as she was preparing her submission to the new big book on Contreras and the major Spanish makers, and one point that came through her findings clearly, in the records of transactions between Contreras' shop and the Royal Court, was the regular supply of bows, as though bows were a consumable good like strings. It would seem plausible that until the last part of the 18th century, violin workshops simply made bows or had them made by outworkers to supply with the violins they sold.

 

The same cavalier attitude towards accessories still persists in Spain. When I was preparing my book on historical violin cases, I had correspondence with the custodians of the Royal collection at the Palacio Real in Madrid at the behest of Queen Sofia. I was trying to track down the original cases in which Stradivari submitted his cuarteto real to the Spanish king in the 1690s.

It was hard work even though I speak fluent Spanish.

They insisted in sending me pictures of the case that W.E. Hill & Sons made for the viola when it was restored to the collection under Franco (lovely case, BTW) but then they added that apart from that, they just had some dusty old leather cases of little interest. After a year of correspondence, I finally gave up but I still feel that this may be an interesting line of research in order to ontain a fuller picture of the output of the House of Stradivari.

Glenn

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