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Faculty of Music

Acquisition: Quartet of Classical Bows for Instrument Collection

The Faculty of Music has taken delivery of a quartet of classical bows that will be a great asset to the instrument collection, enabling string players of modern and historical instruments try familiar repertoire from Mozart to Mendelssohn (and beyond) using bows of the period.

Anyone interested in seeing or trying the bows should contact Maggie Faultless, Director of Performance Studies.

Leading bow-maker Philip Brown writes:

The bows that we made for the Cambridge Music Faculty, were based on two fabulous bows that I sold two years ago, a bow by Mauchand and a bow by Nicholas Leonard Tourte, both  from about 1770/1780. Both  bows were of the high headed, high frog type often associated with Cramer and both of the most exquisitely tight grained pernambuco. The  Mauchand was the better made bow (it’s curious how his output is  overshadowed by Tourte) and was a pleasure to play, but the Tourte made a bigger, rounder sound. So we took design elements of both bows.
After two bows were made in pernambuco we found that the response was not quite good enough  and so opted for stiffer snakewood which produced a bow closer to the originals (and was still historically appropriate). Deciding on what kind of camber to use was an area that I really struggled with. My experience of making bows of this period with commonly less camber is that modern players struggle to understand them and so I opted to copy the camber that was present in the excellently working Tourte bow. Whether or not it was original or not no one can say but it has some interesting features: 1) The low point of the camber  is way down the stick towards the handle - which is harder to make but improves the playability. 2) there is no camber behind the head. This is quite alarming for the modern player as the bow starts to be convex at this point which looks unnerving,  but it adds to the "grab" of the string which helps the start up of the (gut) string.  It is sometimes said that Tourte himself (or his brother) re-cambered the bows at a later date to improve the playability and its possible that this is what we are copying. No-one knows!
I find it interesting that when we look back at the development of the bow we try to pigeon hole models as being for a specific date but this denies the reality of the human condition. When Ford Motors bring out  a new car model, only a small percentage  of Ford owners  can afford to buy it, they carry on with the old model until its worn out.  So, although bows like These Tourte, Mauchand and Dodd  models may have been the cutting edge of technology at the end of the 18th century, the majority of players were still using fixed frog  models. This is also evidenced by  masses of such simple fixed frog bows recorded in workshop inventories at the end of the 18th Century.