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Which is more important? Cello or bow?


PhilipKT
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The cello-or violin/viola/bass- transmits the sound, but it is the bow that creates the sound. 
I just heard about a fine player for whom the bow”is just a tool”

Well, yes, it’s just a tool, and so is the instrument.

But there’s a reason you search diligently until you find the right one, and then you pay pots of money for it.

one great Bowmaker told me once that it is better to find a great bow and THEN find the instrument that matches it, rather than the other way ‘round.

So who’s correct?

 

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The cello is the stereo speaker. It projects the sound. But the bow creates the sound. Yes you can play the cello pizzicato and get sound. But the bow creates the sound. the bow provides the variety and the nuance and the delicacy.

Yes I am not suggesting that the cello is expendable, but I am definitely insisting that the bow is more of a participant in the equation than 50%. It is definitely a tool, yes, but to dismiss it as merely,”a tool” and nothing more is amazingly shortsighted, and can be demonstrated merely by looking at anyone’s face when they pick up a great bow.

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In the world of bowed stringed instruments the bow is it.

The bow is king without it you have no bowed string instruments.

A well set up average instrument will do about anything you could want, howbeit won’t be a very pleasant experience.

But,

 Without a bow that will allow the performer to technically accomplish, what he deems necessary to accomplish for the task at hand,, all is lost without a bow that will perform up to the required standard.

A good bow is a must for a great player,

however

some great players can do about anything with whatever there is at hand,,, there is that,

So there.

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I play regularly with multiple very good bows (F.N. Voirin, H. R. Pfretzschner, JC Suess, A. Nurnberger and other very good French and German bows), and several fine violins, including a George Gemunder Sr.

The violin is unquestionably the overwhelming contributor to tone timbre and volume. Well set-up bows marginally effect the tone, but will not change the core tone of a violin. A violin retains its core tone, regardless of what bow is used.

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The instrument is more important. The same OP question could be asked about strings. Bow, strings make a big difference in enhancing the spectrum of sound but not the core of sound as GeorgeH said. Nowadays there are many inexpensive but great bow options due to new emerging technologies such as graphite/ carbon fiber etc., In my opinion an Arcus S7,8,9 (Cadenza models) outperform most classic bows at a fraction of the price. The new high tech materials also extract more sound out of the instrument which in some cases is too much- impossible with an wooden bow. The agility of the stick gives a great deal of precision and one can find amazing options all under $5K. Not to mention there are other great options like CODA bow under 2K that would fulfill the need of most advancing students. 

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I find this dialog to be very strange. Why does one have to be more important? They are obviously both important. You couldn't do anything with either one without the other. Without ascribing any profound truth to it, I feel that my cello gives me more satisfaction--maybe because it's bigger than the bows. And, of course its easier to get a good bow for a lot less money than it is to get a good cello. (Good doesn't mean great).

As to the bow creating the sound while the cello only amplifies it, I would have to disagree. The sound is in the cello. A bow has no acoustic properties--only mechanical properties.  Try making a sound with just a bow. That doesn't mean it isn't important. It just plays a different role.

And finally, the reason that bows cost so much is the same as why cellos cost so much. Neither has the intrinsic value to justify it. but, like paintings, some people and/or organizations have the money and are willing to compete for them--sometimes just to own something prestigious. Why does a great musician need a $15million instrument when he/she could satisfy an audience with one that costs orders of magnitude less? Why should any bow cost more than $100,000?

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8 hours ago, vlnclo said:

I find this dialog to be very strange.

Yes  strange indeed

8 hours ago, vlnclo said:

 

As to the bow creating the sound while the cello only amplifies it, I would have to disagree.

It is simple physics, the bow in your hand does create the sound.

8 hours ago, vlnclo said:

 

The sound is in the cello.

There is no sound "IN" your cello, listen carefully and you will hear it make sound when you rub it with the bow.:)

8 hours ago, vlnclo said:

A bow has no acoustic properties--only mechanical properties.  Try making a sound with just a bow. That doesn't mean it isn't important. It just plays a different role.

Actually it does, just very quiet.

8 hours ago, vlnclo said:

And finally, the reason that bows cost so much is the same as why cellos cost so much. Neither has the intrinsic value to justify it. but, like paintings, some people and/or organizations have the money and are willing to compete for them--sometimes just to own something prestigious. Why does a great musician need a $15million instrument when he/she could satisfy an audience with one that costs orders of magnitude less? Why should any bow cost more than $100,000?

I didn't realize that we were discussing bow prices?

 

I thought that we were discussing the relative importance of the bow in relation to the instrument in regards to making expressive  emotional music. So far the subject has not even been touched upon, let alone discussed.

simply a phase of the moon no doubt.

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3 hours ago, GeorgeH said:

I play regularly with multiple very good bows (F.N. Voirin, H. R. Pfretzschner, JC Suess, A. Nurnberger and other very good French and German bows), and several fine violins, including a George Gemunder Sr.

Great that you play on some nice bows, and own some fine violins.

3 hours ago, GeorgeH said:

The violin is unquestionably the overwhelming contributor to tone timbre and volume. Well set-up bows marginally effect the tone, but will not change the core tone of a violin. A violin retains its core tone, regardless of what bow is used.

Yes it is, bows don't have any tone, timbre, or volume. A violin sounds like itself no matter what club you should choose.

A violin makes you sound good, a bow doesn't care.

How much difference would the bow make if you were to play "Hora Staccato" (on a strad)

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6 hours ago, PhilipKT said:

The cello is the stereo speaker. It projects the sound. But the bow creates the sound. Yes you can play the cello pizzicato and get sound. But the bow creates the sound. the bow provides the variety and the nuance and the delicacy.

Yes I am not suggesting that the cello is expendable, but I am definitely insisting that the bow is more of a participant in the equation than 50%. It is definitely a tool, yes, but to dismiss it as merely,”a tool” and nothing more is amazingly shortsighted, and can be demonstrated merely by looking at anyone’s face when they pick up a great bow.

Yes this is true, in the context of making real heartfelt music,,, the bow is an extension of your self and should be regarded as such. I make a living making people sound real good,and how good they can play is up to how well they can articulate their bow and crate all the nuances and feeling that accompanies great music.  It takes a very sensitive and tactfully acute bow to express such things.

and some folks are just nutts about bows.

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Professional musician here. The entire premise of this discussion rings false to me, as it is a sensitive balance between the individual style of the player, bow, and instrument (and strings and rosin and setup, ad infinitum)…but I enjoy the thought experiment.

I think people who doubt the importance of the bow either do not have the technical and musical facility to properly gauge the basis of their argument or have not tried the absolute finest bows that exist.

With my best bows, I can coax colors and a huge density of sound out of relatively mediocre instruments. My job description is basically to send out as wide a range of dynamics and colors as possible into a huge hall and in such a way that my colleagues in orchestral or chamber music settings can quickly latch onto what I am doing. It makes my job much more difficult with bows that aren’t as sophisticated sounding in the overtone spectrum. Additionally, it is very frustrating to play bows that don’t keep up in terms of playability (by that I mean they don’t offer a wide palate of articulations and strokes throughout the entire length of the bow and are inherently limited somehow)

Due to the nature of my work, I sometimes have to play on instruments that aren’t as fine, but I know from experience that years of training plus having fine bows, my intention will come across better with fine bows.

Yes, a fine musician will sound good regardless, but a fine bow can offer limitless possibilities and impose its qualities on a lesser instrument.

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Generally I concur with everything that qwerty189 and Evan have said.

The sound of an instrument or of a bow on its own is the sound of one hand clapping. Without both there is no sound.

But then you have to think about the difference between sound and music.

It's true that the sound is largely shaped by the instrument, and that the bow contributes only the smallest amount to the timbre or voice of the instrument. But the bow contributes articulation, dynamics, intention, performance, so if you are talking about music rather than about sound, you have to talk at least as much about the bow as about the instrument.

As someone who sells bows (and violins) to musicians of all standards, from amateur hobby players to well-known soloists, it's very noticeable that some people obsess about sound, whereas others obsess about expressiveness. As a general rule, the more demanding the context in which someone plays, the more they prioritise expressiveness over sound.

Playing a technically demanding piece is an incredibly demanding activity that uses huge amounts of concentration. If a bow will allow you to do something with ease which would otherwise require concentration and intention, then that energy is free to go into enhancing some other aspect of your performance.

I am by no means a good enough player to explore all the possibilities of a great Tourte or Persoit, but I can hear the difference that such a bow can make to the performance of a player who is at that level. It's very like restoring a painting by an Old Master - suddenly all those dirty browns and blurred lines become crisp and vivid, you can see what's going on in the shadows, and you can see the glint in someone's eye and know what they are thinking ...

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5 hours ago, Evan Smith said:

I didn't realize that we were discussing bow prices?

 

11 hours ago, PhilipKT said:

So why do bows cost so much if they are only tools?

I'm an amateur and I am no virtuoso. That being said, I own two cellos and three bows. If I use one bow to play both cellos, the difference in sound is enormous. The difference in tonal color and the presence of overtones is unmistakable.     If I play on either of the two cellos using each of the  three bows, there is a difference in a number of aspects of playability which influence nuance and interpretation, but the basic character of the sound in terms of frequency response is pretty much the same. Certainly the bow influences musicality and the ability of the player to produce the effect that's desired, but you can't pull a sound from the cello that the cello can't respond to. 

It's certainly true that  an accomplished musician can do much more with the bow than someone like me and I don't denigrate the role of the bow. I am simply saying that thinking of one as being more important than the other is not meaningful. I guess the only way to look at it is to regard the instrument and the bow together as one instrument. Regarding one as more important than the other is like saying that the strings are more important than the bridge.

  

6 hours ago, Evan Smith said:

It is simple physics, the bow in your hand does create the sound.

And just for the record,  I can't recall any physical principle, simple or otherwise,  that says that an object that has no acoustic properties can make a sound. On the other hand if you can measure the vibration properties of the bow and relate those properties to the interaction with the instrument, you may have something. If that has been done, I'd like to know about it.

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16 hours ago, PhilipKT said:

one great Bowmaker told me once that it is better to find a great bow and THEN find the instrument that matches it, rather than the other way ‘round.

I don't think I'd ever offer that advice, as I've experienced how an appropriate bow enhances certain qualities of a specific instrument (over and over again on pretty much a daily basis for nearly 40 years in the trade, and to an extent more than a decade before as a student and player). Must be a bowmaker thing.

If a player already has a bow they love, it's quite likely using it when selecting a "new" instrument may have some influence on what they ultimately end up with, however.

Moving on; I'm afraid I think the OP's question is one that may inspire a chicken/egg debate with no clear answer.

Practically speaking, many players climbing the ladder into "better quality" (for lack of a better set of words) tend to do just fine with bow they were using with their last instrument, though it's usually just a matter of time before the other shoe drops.

To complicate things, the attitude surrounding the importance of bow vs. instrument seems affected by culture and geography. For example, a significant number of members of Teatro alla Scala I met in the '90s were happy to play on contemporary workshop bows (Seifert bows were popular) on their rather nice old Italian instruments.

Carry on!

 

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