PART II. BOW MAKING.
MATERIALS—BRAZIL WOOD—HORSEHAIR—THE ACTION OF ROSIN.
It is curious to pass in review the strange events—the causes, heterogeneous and improbable, that have produced many of the most important results in the history of man. What fiddler, for instance, when indulging in the customary smoke after an evening's "grind," realises his indebtedness for half his enjoyment to an unscrupulous Genoese pirate of the fifteenth century? Yet, seeing that in addition to wooden nutmegs, banjoes and other blessings of civilization emanating from the New World, America gives us both tobacco and Brazil wood (the only material of which it is possible to make a thoroughly good bow), I think that, if I may liken the violinist's mind to a temple of many shrines erected to all those who have contributed to his welfare and enjoyment, there should be one niche reserved for Christopher Columbus of egg-balancing fame.
It is also of interest to note how, as soon as violinists were ready for a perfect bow, Francois Tourte appeared on the scene and provided the much desired article. How he experimentalized on common sugar-barrel wood I have already set down in its proper place. This was, of course, to gain proficiency in the use of his new tools. In his search after a wood that should contain the essential qualities of strength, lightness and spring, he made bows of many kinds of wood, but was not satisfied until he tried the red wood imported for dyeing purposes from Pernambuco. I am afraid there are few who reflect on the significance of the fact that the exact wood required did actually exist. Formerly the bow-maker had to buy the wood in the rough state just as shipped over, and then would begin the weary work of selecting those pieces suitable for his purpose. As a matter of fact they are few and far between, for this wood is particularly full of twists, knots and splits. Now this is done for him by firms who buy the raw material, select that with the desired straight grain and cut it into square rods ready for the craftsmen to work up into bows. A few years ago bow makers demanded very dense wood under the impression that it would be advantageous to have them as slender as possible, for the denser the wood the thinner must be the stick to preserve a normal weight. The fallacy of this method, however, soon made itself apparent, for, though you may thin down a stick ad libitum, the head must be a certain height and breadth, consequently these bows were all more or less top heavy. A much lighter variety of wood therefore is now being used, and I must say the appearance of some recent bows by our best English makers is extremely fine; there is a greater sense of proportion apparent to the eye as well as to the hand.
Some of the cheap German and French trade bows are made of what the dealers call Brazilette wood, a wood somewhat allied to the true Brazil wood, but totally lacking in spring or firmness. I wonder whether violinists often realise when they take up a bow how many remote parts of the earth have contributed to this little magic wand! Wood from the West, ivory from the East, mother-of-pearl from the sea, gold or silver from Eastern, Western, or, it may be, Antipodean mines; and, when we add thereto the hair from the horse's tail, we levy a tax upon the three kingdoms, vegetable, animal and mineral, to minister to our enjoyment.
As much discrimination has to be exercised in selecting the hair as in the case with the wood, for it is essential that every hair in the bow be absolutely cylindrical and of equal thickness throughout. These have to be sought for very carefully and are not so plentiful as one would suppose, for the shape of a hair is regulated by that of the pore from which it grows and these are seldom circular, many being flat on one side, some, even, square or triangular. It has been estimated that the proportion of suitable hairs is not more than ten per cent. Tourte, according to Fetis, always preferred French hair for his bows as he found it "larger and stronger than that of other countries." I believe at present a quantity of Russian hair is used.
Tourte's daughter was of great assistance to him in selecting and preparing the hair. His method was to thoroughly cleanse the hair with ordinary soap, then to soak it in bran water and then, after removing all foreign matter, to dip in "blue water." A few years ago some misguided people tried bleaching the hair chemically. This, however, made it quite dry and brittle, and it has happily been abandoned.
The average number of hairs in a bow now-a-days is from 150 to 200. In Tourte's day a similar number were used.
A few words on the structure and action of bow hair and the real part played by rosin may not be amiss. As Mr. Heron-Allen truly observes "it is astonishing how few violinists know anything about the mechanical and scientific action of powdered rosin on tone production." And for the laity he says again that many think, when they see a bow being rosined, that it is being "greased to make it go faster."
If we examine a hair microscopically we discover a surface covered with minute scales. Ordinarily these scales lie close to the main shaft, but when rosin is rubbed along the hair small particles get fixed under the scales causing them to stand up somewhat like the teeth of a saw. These erected scales act on the string like so many infinitesimal plectra and thus produce in perfection the sustained sound attempted in a grosser manner by the tremolo of the mandoline. It is simply a rapid series of shocks. A moment's consideration will suffice to realize that continuous pressure on a string would act as a deterrent rather than a promoter of vibration. In fact an unrosined bow gives continuous pressure and therefore produces no sound.
The hair is usually inserted in a bow in the natural position of its growth, i.e., the root end at the top, thus, as the scales point downwards, giving the greatest attack to the down bow. Some have tried placing half one way and half the other but I do not think a very perceptible difference results from this proceeding.
QUALITIES ESSENTIAL IN A BOW MAKER—SHAPING THE STICK—SETTING THE Cambre—THE FACES—THE TRENCHES—THE NUT.
The manufacture of the bow is an industry calling for rare qualities of patience and concentration on the part of its followers. The skill required is of quite a distinct kind. Strength and delicacy of hand must both be exceptionally pronounced, and mathematical accuracy of eye is essential. Delicacy of touch to readily appreciate the varying degrees of elasticity found not only in different sticks but often in the same piece of wood. Strength to work with precision in such hard wood. And for this kind of work the strength required is not that of the carpenter who can use the weight and swing of his body; it is, rather, a self-contained strength in which opposing forces must co-operate in order to ensure the absolute accuracy so indispensable in a bow. Then the sight must be of unerring judgment, for nearly all the work depends on the eye. Bow making is distinctly nervous work for it keeps the mind constantly alert.
I am indebted for most of the details given in this chapter to the late Alfred Tubbs, son of James, and a good workman, who died comparatively young in 1909. He told me that he only made one bow at a time for the reason that each stick has its own individuality, some intrinsic feature that has to be borne in mind through all the details of fitting, mounting and adjusting. The mind is apt to lose its certainty of retention when exercised on as few, even, as three sticks simultaneously. Therefore each bow is completed before the next is commenced.
Taking the rough stick as shown in Fig. 34, the first operation is that of "rounding the throat," in other words the square rod is made round for a few inches just below the rough block left for the head to be cut from, this portion being called by some the "throat," and by others the "neck" of the bow. After this the corners of the remaining square portion are planed away, thereby making the stick octagonal in section. Should it be intended that the finished bow be octagonal, naturally the throat is not rounded but the planing away of the corners is carried out with extreme care right up to the head. The next operation is to lay the pattern (Fig. 35) on the projecting block and, with a fine pointed pencil, to mark out the outline of the head. This is the only part of the work on the stick itself wherein the eye is assisted by actual measurement or pattern. The shaping, or modelling of the head, as also, later, the gradation in thickness of the stick depending entirely upon optic precision. The absolute accuracy of hand and eye required for such work is only to be attained by long years of constant application.
After roughly shaping the head comes the delicate operation of "setting." This is also known as putting in the "spring" or cambre. The principle upon which the amount of curve is determined is that an imaginary straight line drawn from the face of the head to the face of the nut shall coincide with the stick at the point of its greatest deviation from the horizontal. There is no fixed distance from either end for this extreme point of deviation to occur. It is a matter that rests entirely on the judgment of the maker, who, if thoroughly experienced, regulates the curve by any variation in rigidity he may discover in the stick. Thus should his observations point to the fact that a certain portion of the stick is slightly weaker than the rest, there will he put the greatest amount of "spring." It must be understood, however, that a good maker never uses a stick that is palpably unequal. He will only take this trouble to correct infinitesimal weaknesses (discernible only to a hand of great experience) in wood of exceptionally good grain. It is astonishing how many violinists seem to think good bows are made by accident. Few know that there are some men who can make a fine bow.
The prime factor in the "setting" of a bow is heat, by the judicious application of which the straight rod is made to assume and retain the desired cambre. The heat used now-a-days is that produced by an ordinary gas flame. Dry heat is absolutely essential, as the slightest moisture draws all the pigmentary matter out of the cells in the wood and leaves the bow as colourless and mean in appearance as a stick of deal. As it is, with dry heat even, the amount of colour exuded by a good stick during this process is quite enough to stain the hands a deep purple.
The great point to be observed in "setting" a bow is to make sure that the fibres are all heated equally right through to the centre of the stick. If this does not receive sufficient attention the bow can not possibly retain its curve, for the inner fibres that have not been affected by the heat will always be trying to resume their original straight position, and are bound ultimately to overcome the resistance of the heated outer fibres, with the result that the bow either becomes straight or warped and twisted, most probably the latter. To understand that this must be so it is only necessary to remember that any elastic rod, a walking stick for example, can be held so as to form a curve but as soon as the pressure is released it immediately recovers its normal state. This is what happens with the unheated inner fibres in an inferior bow. The constant strife of opposing forces must result in victory for the active force of the inner fibres over the passive resistance of the heated outer fibres.
For the operation of "setting" the bow is left about half as thick again as the finished stick is intended to be: this to allow for scorching or burning the outer surface. When the "setting" is satisfactorily accomplished the stick is planed up round, after which the bottom trench is cut. This is the slot in which the screw-eye of the nut travels. Then the hole for the screw itself is drilled out in a lathe fitted with a "Cushman chuck." The next thing is to put on the "black face." This is a thin slab of ebony glued on to the under surface of the head, which helps to strengthen the head and forms a solid bed for the ivory or metal plate which forms the outer facing of the head. The ivory faces are cut out of the solid tusk to the shape shown in Fig. 36. They are glued on with the very best glue procurable and tied down with strong twine. This is another matter of extreme difficulty and delicacy, as ivory is a very stubborn material to work in and it is easy to crack it in forcing it down to the curve of the face, that is if it is sufficiently thick adequately to fulfil its original purpose as a strengthener and protector of the head. One often sees in cheap bows faces of ivory so thin as to show the ebony face through in a bluish tint. Such a face is of as much value to the bow as a piece of paper, but it was easy to put on!
Metal faces are growing more and more into favour but, personally, I prefer a substantial ivory face, for though the metal may be stronger in itself I think an ivory face well glued on is more homogeneous. The successive layers of ebony and ivory on the already hard wood forms a more equal gradation of density.
After both the faces are adjusted a circular hole is drilled in the head and then chiselled out square to form the top trench or box to receive the hair. The nut is then fitted. Many people imagine that even the best makers buy the nuts wholesale and fit the sticks to them, but good makers always make the nut for each bow as it is wanted. They can by this means better regulate the balance of the bow.
Fig. 37 shows a gauge to determine the various dimensions of the nuts of violin, viola and 'cello bows. Before the bow is finally "cleaned up" it is haired and screwed to see if it is all true, for there may be something faulty in the cambre which can be corrected at this stage. If all is satisfactory the bow is finished and polished, the whole process, from the rough stick in Fig. 34 to the finished bow ready for the artist to melt, delight and amuse his hearers, being one day's work.
[Footnote 1: For details of bow hairing see Chapter XII.]
POSSIBLE REPAIRS—SPLICING—RENEWING CUPS—RESTORING THE NUT—RE-FACING.
Bow repairing is a matter calling for almost more skill than the actual manufacture of new bows, and it is one about which very hazy ideas exist outside the trade itself. One can divide violinists roughly into two sections. On the one hand there are those who believe anything is possible in this way, and on the other there are many who have no faith whatever in such repairs.
I recollect when only a lad meeting an elderly amateur violinist of the pompous class who not only was kind enough to pay the most embarrassing attention to my solos but further favoured me with his conversation and advice. "Now," said he, "you must get a steel bow; tell your father about it; absolutely necessary. You see this stick of a thing you are playing with" (alas, my cherished Lupot!) "is all very well now, but by-and-bye the hairs will come out and it will be worthless." I ventured to suggest that it could be re-haired. "Ah yes, yes, yes!" he replied, "I know it can be done, and it is done, very often, but it is never the same thing. No, once the hairs begin to go, there is nothing to do but buy a new bow, but if you have a steel bow the hairs cannot come out and you have an article that will endure in its original state all your life." (!)
I may observe that this gentleman had not the slightest commercial interest in steel bows.
I also came in contact once with an example of the opposite class. This gentleman had a little son who was in the habit of borrowing his father's violin bow surreptitiously for the purpose of perfecting himself in the useful art of single stick practice. The inevitable happened, and when I saw the bow it was proudly exhibited to me as an example of what could be done with a little ingenuity. The two halves of the broken bow had been well glued together, two steel pen nibs had been placed so as to form a sort of metal tube to protect the fracture, and the whole was bound securely with strong silk. In its owner's estimation it was "as good as ever, sir, as good as ever."
I propose to state here briefly what can be done and what is advisable to have done in the way of bow-repairing.
If a bow is broken in the upper part of the stick it is just possible to splice on a new head and throat, but it is not worth doing, for the cambre and balance of the original can never be reproduced. In the first place there is a different piece of wood which, however well matched, is bound to be sufficiently strange to disturb such a delicate instrument. And then the cambre of the new piece has to be set before it is joined on to the old stick and thus it becomes impossible to make a satisfactory curve throughout.
To re-adjust the original head is not feasible, as the only joint that will stand the strain to which a bow is subjected is a long diagonal one extending for several inches.
Splicing a new "handle" (Fig. 38d) is, however, frequently done, and is often advisable. It occasionally happens that a valuable bow becomes so worn by the pressure of the fingers or thumb, or by the friction of the nut and screw, as to be beyond the reach of the more usual repairs. It then becomes necessary to substitute a new handle, and this can be done by skilful repairers as to make absolutely no difference to the balance of the stick. The joint is in this case also a diagonal one extending usually from near the upper extremity of the "lapping" downwards for some four or five inches. It should be seen that the surfaces brought in contact in such a joint are so placed as to be perpendicular to the plane of the hair. Otherwise it cannot endure for any length of time.
Very often the original handle can be restored and made sound. Thus, when the screw hole becomes worn and the "cup" (see Fig. 39, which shows the two "cups," that at the extremity of the stick and that in the "tip") broken, it is customary to drill out the hole, turn up a piece of well-seasoned bow wood in the lathe to the exact diameter of the enlarged hole, and glue it well in place. When thoroughly dry a new screw hole of the original dimensions can be drilled just as in making a new bow. Sometimes, when there are cracks in the handle, the trench has to be filled up and re-cut, as is also done to the head if it is cracked through the pressure of the plug (Fig. 40a). Repairs to the nut are also done when the nut is original, i.e., when it belongs to the bow and is of a distinguished maker. Old nuts frequently get cracked down the sides where they come in contact with the stick. In this case the worn part of the nut is cut away and new wood glued on and worked up to the original shape. I have seen a nut so restored by Mr. Tubbs in which it was absolutely impossible to discover where the new piece was joined on.
With regard to the screw hole, it often becomes worn to an oval shape just above the trench owing to the screw being too short. This is frequently found in old French bows, even by the best makers, and causes the unsightly tilting of the tip. In Fig. 41 is shown a section of the nut and handle showing the action of the screw and the way the hair is inserted. The screw in this diagram is the exact length necessary to prevent the wearing away of the hole described above.
Bow repairers are often perplexed as to their customers' meaning when sending instructions by post for the restoration of the "tip," as many people use this word to denote the extremity of the head (Fig. 40d).
This, however, is known to experts as the "peak," and the word "tip" is applied solely to the octagonal piece at the opposite end of the bow, by means of which the screw is turned and the tension of the hair regulated.
In some bows the octagonal portion, known as the handle (Fig. 38d) on which the nut travels has the lower face rather larger than the rest as in the section shown in Fig. 42. The object of this enlargement is to give the nut a broader surface to travel on and thus prevent the tendency to rock exhibited by some nuts. But, though there is some merit in the idea it has been found that the rocking can be avoided in a normal bow having the eight sides of the handle equal by extra care in fitting. And though the other pattern may be easier to fit in the first instance, the projecting sides of the nut that travel on the adjacent faces of the handle are very small and weak; consequently before long the nut shows longitudinal cracks at this part and becomes extremely rocky, though from a different cause.
One of the most frequent repairs is the operation of re-facing. The handsome central gasalier of the modern room is a great enemy to the violin and seems to lie in wait for the peak of an unwary violinist's bow. Fortunately the damage is not very serious, and an experienced bow repairer will not be long in restoring the head to its original elegance of outline.
RE-LAPPING—RE-HAIRING—CHOICE OF ROSIN.
The lapping frequently wears out and becomes a source of great irritation until one has an opportunity of having it newly done. For this reason a lapping of leather is the most convenient and economical, but nothing looks better than a good quality of silver cord, and when it is bound with leather just where otherwise it would suffer from the pressure and friction of the thumb nail it is really very durable. Messrs. W. E. Hill and Sons have an extremely handsome speciality in the way of lapping. This consists of whalebone, sometimes bleached or dyed, and is practically indestructible. Bound on in alternate strands of different colours it has a very effective and neat appearance.
Sometimes the ordinary thread lapping gets cut through and interferes with the player, and it is as well to know how to fasten it off at once. I will assume that it is cut at the end nearest the nut (where it usually happens). Take out the screw and wind the hair loosely but securely round the upper part of the bow. Then unwind the lapping for about an inch and a half. Take a piece of strong thread and double it, then place it on the bow with the doubled end towards the handle. Get a kind friend to hold the end of the lapping cord firmly and commence winding it on again evenly and over the doubled thread by slowly rotating the bow. When within half an inch of the end of the thread, take it all in your own hand and pass the end through the loop of doubled thread and, taking the loose ends of the thread that will hang out at the point where you started re-winding, pull the doubled thread smartly out. This brings the end of the lapping right through under the re-wound portion, where it will be held secure until again cut through by the thumb-nail. This is the method employed in fastening off new lappings. If you have not the time or patience to do it this way a little sealing wax will hold the loose end down during an evening's practice.
Considering that re-hairing is one of the most natural and most frequent events in the life of a bow, it seems somewhat anomalous to include it under the heading of "repairs." However, I will crave the reader's kind indulgence for so doing.
At the outset I must emphatically assert that I do not advise amateurs or artists to attempt to hair their own bows if any value attaches to them, for it is astonishing how soon even a fine bow will lose its cambre if persistently haired in an unskilful manner. It requires enormous experience to enable one to get the pull of the hair equal in every case, and the slightest extra pull on one side or the other gives the bow a twist that renders its action erratic and extremely disturbing to a good violinist. The preceding operation to re-hairing is that of unhairing. This is comparatively a simple matter. The hair is first cut off short at each end, then hair at the head is lifted up to disclose the plug (Fig. 40a). This is readily lifted out with a pointed tool, and the curled up knot lying beneath is pulled out. So much for the head. The nut is slightly more complex. First the ferrule (Fig. 41d) is pulled off and the slide (Fig. 41f) is pushed out. After this the hair is raised as with the head, and the plug (Fig. 41e) picked out in the same manner. The wedge in the nut (Fig. 41c) is used to spread the hair and keep it firm at the heel, to give a good attack for heavy down strokes. This is usually destroyed in unhairing, as it frequently has to be cut away, owing to its being glued into position.
The process of re-hairing is now identical with that of hairing a new bow in the first instance. Some keep the hair ready made up into "hanks" of the right quantity for a bow, and others have it in large bundles, pulling it out as required. One soon gets practice in this to judge by the eye alone how much will be sufficient. At one end it is tied securely with waxed silk or thread, and the short ends are cut off to within about a sixteenth of an inch from the thread. To prevent the thread being pulled off the end of the hair, the ends are burnt with rosin so as to spread them out slightly (very slightly) mushroom wise, over the thread binding. The usual way of doing this is to fill the short end—which resembles a small stencil brush—with finely powdered rosin and then, by pressing it against a red-hot iron, to shape it into a firm, unyielding knot. This knot is laid in the trench of the head, and the plug pressed firmly into position, so that its upper surface is exactly level with that of the plate or face. The hair, of course, must be brought over the wedge in an even ribbon. The hair should now be well combed with a fine comb and then steeped, coil fashion, in warm water for several minutes. It then should be thoroughly combed again from top to bottom, holding it firmly the while at the lower end. The nut is now placed in position with the screw-eye rather above the centre of the slot in which it travels, then a careful estimate is made of the length of hair required to go just far enough round the plug (Fig. 41e) to be secure, and a knot exactly like the one described for the head is made at the point decided on. This requires considerable experience, as it is very easy to make it too long or vice versa, both of which faults hamper the nicety of adjustment of tension required for some particular style of bowing technique. When this lower knot is made the ferrule is slipped over the hair, the knot is laid in the trench and the plug put in as before—the nut being completely detached from the stick. The nut is then re-adjusted and slightly screwed up. The hair is then combed again, the slide pushed in, and the ferrule slipped over the extremity of the nut. After this a thin wedge is driven in (behind the hair) usually with a spot of glue on the side next the hair, as at c, in Fig. 41. The bow is now haired, and all that remains to make it ready for use is to rosin it. As new hair never bites on a block of rosin, it is necessary to spread a quantity of powdered rosin on a card or sheet of stout paper and rub the hair over it till it is quite full; after this it will take freely from the block. A newly haired bow is always extremely rough and is apt to produce a harsh, scratchy tone, but this defect wears off in a very short time.
I must again repeat my opinion regarding the inadvisability of violinists hairing their own bows, and I have only given the above details to gratify the curiosity of those who like to know "how it's done."
It is extraordinary the number and variety of rosins in the market; some in most wonderfully contrived boxes designed to keep the rosin dust from making the fingers sticky, or—more probably—to sell! Of all the different patents in this way, I find the ordinary book-shape by far the most satisfactory. The first quality of rosin is prepared by boiling down Venice turpentine. In a certain authority on violin matters I read that many soloists of celebrity use common kitchen rosin, but I cannot say I have much faith in the source from whence he can have received such information. It is advisable never to change the rosin used until the bow is re-haired, as in each there is some slight difference in composition that may not harmonize with what is already on the bow.
THE PERFECTION OF THE MODERN BOW—DR. NICHOLSON'S PATENT BOW—VUILLAUME'S INVENTIONS—SELF-HAIRING BOWS—A FOLDING BOW—THE "KETTERIDGE BOW."
It is worthy of note, as a testimony to the simplicity and perfection of the bow, that there have been so few attempts, since Tourte's day, to alter or "improve" it in any particular. The few experiments that have been made in this direction have in nearly every case proved failures and have sunk into speedy oblivion.
One of the most remarkable productions in this way was the ponderous monstrosity invented by one Dr. Nicholson (Fig. 43). This hideous and unwieldy weapon was put forth by its inventor as the only correct form for a violin bow! It had to be haired with precisely 150 horse hairs dyed red. The reasons for this and the eccentric curve of the stick are subtleties into which I dare not venture!
Vuillaume's erratic genius was responsible for sundry attempts at improving the bow, the most complex being the fixed nut. He was struck by the fact that with the ordinary nut advancing and retreating by the action of the screw it was possible for it to be not always mathematically in the same place. Also that as the hair gradually stretched by use, the length thereof increased as the same tension was obtained each time it was screwed up for use. This, of course, made a minute difference in the balance of the bow. He apparently considered this a serious defect and set about inventing a nut that should render the balance and the length of the hair immutable. This was his patent "hausse fixe." As the name implies the nut was a fixture externally but contained a smaller metal nut that travelled inside it. These nuts were very unsightly as they were much more bulky than the ordinary nut. It is curious that it never occurred to him that the movement of the internal nut would similarly affect the balance. A sort of windlass in the nut would have been more exact, but, as a matter of fact the difference is more theoretical than practical, and is imperceptible to the player, so the fixed nut, like many other examples of wasted ingenuity, died a natural death.
Another of Vuillaume's patents was the steel bow. This was often a handsome looking instrument. Some were "got up" to look like Brazil wood and others were of a bright blue. As this was the natural colour of the metal it was more commendable but had a very odd appearance. These bows were not much heavier, if at all, than the average bow as they were hollow throughout. They were deficient in balance and had one great drawback. Though stronger and tougher in one sense than the wooden bow they would not stand so much knocking about. A bow, even in the hands of those accustomed to handling them, is liable to have an occasional fall, and if not broken, is as good as ever; in fact a bow rarely breaks unless it falls peak downwards. On the other hand the steel bow would generally "kink" or get dinted and bent if it came in contact with anything in a fall and would then be entirely useless. A third mistake of Vuillaume's was the curved ferrule. Thinking it would be advantageous to give the player a good spread of hair at the heel he made a ferrule that gave the ribbon of hair as it left the nut something the appearance of the hair in the primitive Egyptian bow illustrated in Fig. 11. This is still to be met with in some cheap foreign bows. A further notion of his was calculated to be of great benefit to such players as might find themselves in out-of-the-way places with a bow in need of new hair and no luthier or bow-repairer within reach. This was the "patent self-hairing bow." Its principles were sometimes used in conjunction with the "fixed nut" and steel bows. The hair for this bow was sold ready made into ribbons of the exact length by having a small brass rod placed transversely at either end; these rods slipped into appropriately shaped notches in the head and nut and the bow was haired. It does not appear to have been satisfactory and has gone the way of the other innovations of this and other makers. One other thing in connexion with Vuillaume's bows I will mention here though it is not in the nature of an "improvement" properly so-called, albeit I have no doubt Vuillaume thought it a great embellishment. In the nuts of some of his bows, just where the mother-o'-pearl "eye" is usually placed, he had inserted a minute and powerful lens with a microscopic transparent portrait of himself that could be seen therein on holding the nut to the light. It was just like the views one sometimes sees in penholders brought as presents from popular seaside resorts.
I have recently heard of another variety of self-hairing bow patented in America, but have not yet seen one. From that country, where, so I have heard, the bows drawn are of quite exceptional length, emanated a patent bow wherein fine cords are substituted for hair and also a contrivance, whereby, when the hair becomes smooth and useless on the one side, it can be taken out, turned round and then enters on a rejuvenated existence the other way about.
To return to Vuillaume's patent bows. All of these, excepting the steel bows, are splendid sticks, for they were made by Simon, Fonclouse, and other noted workmen. It is therefore a profitable thing to have them altered into normal bows. This can be done by skilful workmen so that the bow is as good as any other ordinary bow by the same maker, and is free from the encumbrance of the patent.
G. Chanot, of Manchester, I am told, has a patent bow that is made to fold in two for convenience in packing for travelling purposes. The idea is not as original as its inventor may think, for the Japanese kokiu which is fast becoming obsolete had an extremely long and flexible bow that was jointed together like a fishing rod.
The "improved bow," patented by Chas. Ketteridge, is distinctly novel and has much to commend it. The hair in this bow is placed at such an angle that, though the player holds his hand in the usual position, the full width of the hair lies evenly on the string from end to end. It has been well spoken of by the press and several noted artists. For chord playing it possesses distinct advantages, and I should think it would be very useful for certain orchestral players; it does not, however, seem to have attracted more than passing attention.
Truly the "fiddlestick" is a magic wand in more senses than one. As mentioned above it is significant that so little has been attempted in the way of alteration or improvement, and it is still more so that of that little such a small proportion is worthy of a second thought. As Bach stands in relation to the fugue, as Beethoven to the symphony and Stradivari to the violin, so is Tourte to the bow. Superior alike to his predecessors and successors, he stands high poised upon the pedestal of his incomparable genius.
PART III. THE ART OF BOWING.
THE UNDECIDED ASPECT OF TECHNIQUE—IMPORTANCE OF A KNOWLEDGE OF THE ANATOMY OF THE HAND—THE FUNCTION OF THE THUMB—INDIVIDUALITY IN TECHNIQUE.
In treating of the somewhat complex and, in many details, highly-disputed subject of the functions of the bow, I shall prefer to handle the question in the abstract rather than to launch myself on the choppy sea of "technique"; a sea abounding in shoals, reefs, undercurrents and whirlpools; extremely difficult to navigate inasmuch as that no two charts agree. Consequently when the mariner launches his boat the danger to himself and his passengers is considerable. In plain English the difficulty of explaining all the well-nigh imperceptible differences of movement in bone and muscle required for the various styles of bowing is so enormous that he who attempts to do so on paper lies under the grave danger of being misunderstood, and the student under the scarcely less grave one of misunderstanding. The danger is reciprocative, just as, to return to my nautical simile, the peril of the helmsman is shared by each passenger if he by mischance steers upon a submerged rock.
Therefore, dear reader, I will survey the whole prospect from a secure coign of vantage upon the mainland, and trust my impressions thereof may prove of some slight service to you. As I have disclaimed all intention of making this portion of my work a handbook of bowing technique it seems superfluous to add that my observations are addressed more to the teacher than the student. I use these words in their accepted and arbitrary meanings for the sake of distinguishing between two separate classes. Of course, from the higher standpoint, a good teacher is always a student. If it were not so the following pages would be written to no purpose.
Some years ago a certain eminent M.D. collaborated with a more or less well known singing master in a work on the Larynx. The musical world talked of little else but vocal chords and soft palates for many months, and the musical press was teeming with correspondence in which the pros and cons of such studies were hotly discussed, many of the antagonistic writers opining that the knowledge of the anatomy of the throat would be of as much service to a vocalist as that of the hand to a violinist. Which reasoning sounds at first glance quite complete, yet, on examination, it will be observed that there is no such close analogy as these writers appeared to think. To begin with, in singing the mind only occupies itself with the sound produced. To learn singing is to practise mimicry. We cannot determine the position of the vocal chords before producing the note. Our consciousness begins at the other end; the mind conjures up a certain ideal sound which we attempt to realize vocally; if the desired timbre is produced the laryngeal action is correct. With the violin thought commences with the means. The hand is trained; we say set the fingers so, and the thumb so. Now practice; when the action is perfect the tone will be right. Briefly in singing we strive for the tone and the action follows, in the violin we strive for the action and the tone follows. Thus it is clear that a knowledge of the structure of the hand is of distinct value to a violinist—in particular, a teacher—while, on the other hand, the knowledge of the anatomy of the throat can be little more than interesting to the vocalist.
A knowledge of the structure and functions of the various parts of the hand on the part of a teacher would smooth over many disheartening experiences of his pupils. Just as it is of value to study the mental characteristics of a pupil so, also, is it of value to thoroughly examine his physical peculiarities. I wonder how many violin teachers have noticed, or have profited by so noticing, that no two hands are alike, or that thumbs are of different lengths and set on in various degrees of opposition to the fingers. It is seldom that such apparently unimportant details are observed by teachers, the majority of whom make all their pupils hold the bow alike, long thumbs or short thumbs it makes no difference. I remember having for a pupil a young lady who had been taught to hold her bow at the extreme tips of her fingers. Naturally she gained no facility and every attempt at semiquavers sent the bow flying across the room to the imminent danger of the teacher's optics. I surmised the cause of this eccentricity and was ultimately able to verify my conjectures. The master who had been so conscientious in making her hold the bow in this strained and ungainly position was blessed with an abnormally long thumb; the pupil's thumb was short. What came natural to the one was a strain on the other.
The function of the thumb is that of a pivot; a fulcrum. The bow is a lever resting thereon, and its pressure on the string is regulated by the first and second fingers on the one side and by the third and fourth on the other. It would thus appear that the best place for the thumb would be exactly between the second and third fingers. But it is not given to every thumb to drop naturally into this position. And here is to be noted the germ of facility in bowing. Every thumb closes naturally on a certain spot; it may be on the second finger, or on the third. If the former it can be made to rest on the third or even the fourth without apparent effort, but minute observation will detect an infinitesimal strain when the thumb is taken beyond its natural resting place. Therefore I maintain that the best position for the thumb is to be determined by examination of the hand and thumb, and will differ slightly in each individual player. It is curious to note how many teachers, some of extreme eminence, take such pains to perpetuate their own bad habits in their pupils under the impression that they are teaching a perfect and superior technique. I am afraid that it sounds somewhat of a heresy to speak of great players and teachers having "bad habits"; the expression is, perhaps, rather strong, but what I refer to is the "personal equation." Such a player has a tendency to part his fingers, another elevates the fourth finger in certain passages, this one has a peculiar movement of the elbow, etc., etc. All these divergencies from rigid and pedantic technique being the result of their several physical differences. When these men prove themselves great artists and attain high positions as teachers their advice is sought on matters of technique. Finding themselves oracles they first consult the oracle by aid of looking glasses, analyse in this way their own actions, and then the one who parts his fingers lays it down as a law that the fingers should be parted, and the one with the peculiar movement of the elbow will not rest until all his pupils have acquired the same eccentricity. I will quote another example of this sort of thing that came under my own observation some years ago. It deals with the left hand, but displays the spirit so well that I feel it is not out of place in this connexion. A thin, delicate lad, with fingers "like needles"—as a brother violinist described them to me—was sent to a German professor whose digits resembled nothing so much as the handles of table knives. This was an excellent violinist, or rather "geiger," for the Germans make this distinction, but owing to the size of his fingertips he could only play semitones in the third position by removing the finger stopping the lower note while putting down the higher one. If he retained the second finger on E on the A string, third position, the third finger would fall too sharp for F natural. This seemed to him such an unalterable law of nature that he made the lad do the same, notwithstanding that the boy could have stopped quarter tones with ease had they been wanted!
Had this man made even a superficial study of the hand he would have been spared much profanity and the pupil much heartache and disappointment. Tuition is twofold. There is direct teaching and there is development. The seed is sown and then the soil is watered and tended in the manner calculated to nourish and develop the particular plant to the best advantage. Again, the gardener does not plant his roses in damp shady corners or his ferns in sand.
Teachers require to use more of the gardener's judgment. They must cease to look upon their pupils as defective copies of themselves and must not fit them out with technique as soldiers are with clothing. The technique should be made for the particular player. A violinist with an ill-fitting technique is about as elegant as a short man in clothes intended for a tall one, or vice versa. Many cases of bad or defective technique are directly attributable to the teacher's want of perception of "fit."
Thus we see players whose natural movements are bold and free trussed up in a small and finicking technique, and others whose bent is towards neatness, struggling manfully with a cumbersome "large style." I have heard a "gentleman" defined as "a man who wears clothes that belong to him." Similarly we may say that a good violinist is one whose technique belongs to him. Every movement should come naturally, it should be as much a part of his personality as his tone of voice or the glance of his eye, and it should be the teacher's aim to develop this personality and not to stifle it as is too often the case. Of course great judgment is required in this development, or the personality will become marked mannerism, than which nothing could be worse. True art always displays a certain reticence; excess at either end of the gamut of emotion is avoided. Calmness is not coldness, and passion carried too far becomes caricature. Tone must be developed also, but it should always be borne in mind that exertion is not power; a mistake too frequently made. How often do we see a well meaning but physically weak player trying to tear the tone out of a violin by "main strength." Such efforts are useless, particularly when practised on a fine violin. A really good instrument is of too sensitive an organisation to respond to bullying. Teachers cry out to their pupils sometimes "lay it on!" "pull it out!" and other contradictory sounding phrases with the same meaning, and occasionally such admonitions and encouragements bear good fruit, but there is always the danger of "effort" being engendered thereby. There should be no effort in art. Effort, too, defeats its own ends. It weakens; exercise strengthens. Therefore let the strength with which to "lay it on" or "pull it out" be gradually and naturally developed by constant and gentle practice. The muscles will gain strength thus, and the result will be a full round tone, capable of every inflection and free from everything like harshness.
Power should be implied rather than displayed. The instrument will then respond freely and fully as a woman to the caress of a strong manly arm.
BOWING HISTORICALLY CONSIDERED—THE OLDEST ENGLISH VIOLIN METHOD—SYMPSON'S INSTRUCTIONS IN BOWING—THOSE OF MACE (1676)—THOSE OF VARIOUS MODERN MASTERS.
If the history of the bow's development per se presented a misty aspect we must not be surprised to find that of bowing similarly obscure.
Just as the violin arrived at its state of greatest perfection long before the bow developed into a fitting companion.
When we consider the enormous progress in left hand technique accomplished by the earlier violinists and 'cellists, such as Corelli, Tartini, Bach, and a host of others, it seems incomprehensible that the bow should have so long remained in such a comparatively crude and primitive condition, and its mode of use so limited and undecided.
The best drawing I have seen of the manner of holding the bow in playing a higher pitched viol is in a miniature representation of a state banquet in the fifteenth century, from which I extract the player shown in Fig. 44.
The evidence of drawings, sculptures, etc., in the earliest days of rebecs and viols, if not reliable in the representation of the bow itself, are still less so when it comes to the question of handling the same. With the smaller viols, the thumb (such an important member) is naturally invisible, and the effect is usually that of a clenched fist. It seems to have been the general rule with all the viols of lower pitch that were held perpendicularly, to hold the bow underhand as described by Sympson in 1759 (Fig. 45). But the third drawing in Fig. 18 is remarkable alike for the modernness both of the bow and the posture of the hand holding it. This is on a par with the early bows with screw-nut and cambre described in the first section of this work. I cannot think it likely that the sculptor saw anyone playing a bass viol in this manner. Whether this representation was the result of gross ignorance or prophetic inspiration I leave to the reader to decide.
Of course the manner of holding the bow for the smaller viols would have approximated more nearly to that which obtains on the violin at the present day, as the underhand position would have been extremely inconvenient, and even impossible.
The earliest English method for the violin known is that contained in the second book of "An Introduction to the Skill of Musick, in Three Books," published in 1654 by John Playford.
Here the violin is just tolerated in a sort of appendix to the more important subject of the "Treble, Tenor, and Bass Viols." It consists chiefly of various methods of ensuring accuracy in tuning the fifths, and the question of bowing is summarily treated as follows:—
"The Bow is held in the right Hand, between the ends of the Thumb and the 3 Fingers, the Thumb being stay'd upon the Hair at the Nut, and the 3 Fingers resting upon the Wood. Your Bow being thus fix'd, you are first to draw an even Stroak over each String severally, making each String yield a clear and distinct sound."
Of the Treble Viols very little is said on the subject of bowing, the most complete instructions on that head being given for the viol par excellence, the viola da gamba. In treating of this glorious instrument the older writers spared no pains to make their directions as complete as possible. Thus Sympson in his "Division Viol"—first published in 1659—says:—
"Hold the Bow betwixt the ends of your Thumb and two foremost fingers, near to the Nut. The Thumb and first finger fastened on the Stalk; and the second finger's end turned in shorter, against the Hairs thereof; by which you may poize and keep up the point of the Bow. If the second finger have not strength enough, you may joyn the third finger in assistance to it; but in Playing Swift Division, two fingers and the Thumb is best.... When you see an even Number of Quavers or Semiquavers, as 2, 4, 6, 8, you must begin with your Bow forward; yea, though the Bow were imployed forward in the next Note before them. But if the number be odd, as 3, 5, 7 (which always happens by reason of some Prick-Note or odd Rest) the first of that odd number must be played with the Bow backward. This is the most proper motion of the Bow, though not absolutely without some exception; for sometimes the quickness of the Notes may force the contrary. Also quick Notes skipping from the Treble to the Bass, and so persued, are best express'd with contrary Bows."
All of which is very clear and logical. The way he balances up the relative claims of a stiff or loose elbow is, however, distinctly amusing, as witness the following:
"——you must stretch out your Arm streight, in which posture (playing long Notes) you will necessarily move your shoulder Joint; but if you stir that Joint in Quick Notes, it will cause the whole body to shake; which (by all means) must be avoyded; as also any other indecent Gesture. Quick Notes, therefore, must be expressed by moving some Joint near the Hand; which is generally agreed upon to be the Wrist. The question then arising is about the menage of the Elbow Joint; concerning which there are two different opinions. Some will have it kept stiff; insomuch, that I have heard a judicious violist positively affirm, that if a Scholar can but attain to the playing of Quavers with his Wrist, keeping his Arm streight and stiff in the Elbow-Joint, he hath got the mastery of the Bow-Hand. Others contend that the motion of the Wrist must be strengthened and assisted by a compliance or yielding of the Elbow-Joint unto it; and they, to back their Argument, produce for instance a person famous for the excellency of his Bow-Hand using a free and loose Arm. To deliver my own opinion: I do much approve the streightness of the Arm, especially in Beginners, because it is a means to keep the Body upright, which is a commendable posture. I can also admit the stiffness of the Elbow, in smooth and Swift Division; for which it is most properly apt; but Cross and Skipping Divisions cannot (I think) be so well express'd without some consent or yielding of the Elbow-Joint unto the motion of the Wrist.... This motion or looseness of the Wrist I mention, is chiefly in Demi-semiquavers; for, in Quavers, and Semiquavers too, we must allow so much stiffness to the wrist as may command the Bow on and off the String, at every Note, if occasion so require."
[Footnote 1: "Some joint" is very good; it gives such liberty in the way of choice.]
This must have been rather a crude form of spiccato. It is, however, plainly evident that with heavy bows, destitute of elasticity, and held underhand, it was quite impossible to allow the bow to rebound naturally from the string for this effect.
Mace, whose book, "Musick's Monument," is one of the most amusing works extant, in speaking of the bowing of the viol, i.e., viola da gamba, or, as he calls it, "the generous viol," quotes Sympson's direction for holding the bow and then adds:—
"Yet I must confess, that for my own Part, I could never Use it so well as when I held it 2 or 3 Inches off the Nut (more or less) according to the Length or Weight of the Bow, for Good Poyzing of It: But 'tis possible, that by Vse I might have made It as Familiar to Myself, as It was to Him."
He, also, was greatly exercised in his mind as to the stiffness or the reverse of the elbow, and delivered himself thuswise thereon:—
"So likewise, for the Exact Straitness of the Bow-Arm, which some do Contend for, I could never do so well, as with my Arm (straight enough, yet) something Plying, or Yielding to an Agile Bending: and which I do conceive most Familiarly Natural. (For I would have no Posture, Vrged, Disputed, or Contended for; that should Cross, or Force Nature.")
There is much to commend in the spirit of this last sentence. The hand and arm should never be made to do anything that is unnatural. But herein must be exercised the greatest possible judgment that the unfamiliar be not mistaken for the unnatural.
Returning to the position of the thumb in violin playing we find nearly every teacher insisting on a different posture. In the "Methode de Violon," by Baillot, Rode and Kreutzer, it is set down as being correct to have the thumb opposite the middle finger. David, in his "Violin School," says that the thumb should be opposite the first finger. This is to my mind most extraordinary, and I can hardly conceive it possible that so great a violinist and teacher could have maintained such an unscientific method to be correct. The loss of leverage resulting from the thumb being so far forward would be almost certain to cause the elbow to rise and give, by the dead weight of the arm, the pressure that should come from the sentient elasticity of the first and second fingers. De Beriot says the thumb should be between the second and third fingers, which is naturally the best position. Papini, with greater perception of the fact of anatomical difference in hands, says the thumb should be as near the centre of the four fingers as possible.
In all questions of technique it is possible to determine the exact best mode of procedure. But unless the hand be perfectly fitted thereto, the rule should be relaxed, for insisting on positions that are even slightly strained (though possibly, quite comfortable to a differently constructed hand) can only do harm.
THE FINGERS OF THE RIGHT HAND—DIFFERENCES OF OPINION THEREON—SAUTILLE—THE LOOSE WRIST.
The functions of the right hand fingers are twofold. At times they act in conjunction with each other and at others, in opposition. Some writers say that the two outer fingers are the holding fingers, and others contend that the two inner fingers are alone concerned in this service. This difference of opinion is to me just as absurd as the arguments anent the wrist and elbow of the old violists. As a matter of fact both theories are right. The difference being that, in the question of holding, the action of the outer fingers is passive while that of the inner fingers is active. To go more into detail, in soft passages the bow simply rests supported by the three points of contact with the thumb, first and fourth fingers. The inner fingers then taking little or no part in the matter. This action of the outer fingers I say is passive as the bow is not actually held but simply rests on the thumb, the two outer fingers merely preventing it from falling to one side or the other. Occasionally these two fingers will act in concert or opposition, according to the requirements of expression and phrasing. When playing loudly it becomes necessary that a more decided purchase of the bow be maintained, especially in rapid forte passages. Then the inner fingers come into play and hold the bow firmly against the thumb. The two outer fingers then are solely concerned with regulating the pressure and preserving the elasticity of the stroke, which is lost in a firm grip only.
These slight differences of action in my opinion can not be practised. They are the outcome of years of grind. They come, and when they are firmly established we can analyse them. To gain the mastery of the bow one must begin at the bottom and be content to work gradually up to the topmost rung (or thereabouts!) of the ladder. I often meet with amateur violinists who try to begin at the top. The consequences of this proceeding are distinctly more certain, for when starting at the bottom it is not always assured that much upward progress will be made, whereas, by the opposite method the descent will be certain and considerable!
Nothing is more hopeless than the attempts some amateur violinists make to acquire certain styles of bowing simply by mentally mastering the various actions by which it is produced.
Sautille, one of the easiest forms of bowing, suffers most from this sort of thing. It is no uncommon thing to see an amateur diligently practising the action of lifting the bow off the string and putting it on again after each note, thinking that if he keeps on long enough—say ten minutes a day for a fortnight—that he will acquire a perfect mastery of this much desired effect. To practice Sautille in this manner is the way not to gain it. It is the outcome of the perfect action of the entire arm. When that is attained you will have the Sautille. Then, and then only, will a little specialized practice help to perfect the movement. Some pupils I have had who possessed the Sautille by nature and never understood the difficulty experienced by others who had to wait for it. The best way to acquire this as the result of a perfect bow arm is to practise the following:
Try it first on the D string. Use whole bows, freely and firmly, for the semibreves, slightly less for the minims, the middle third for the crotchets, and an inch or two for the quavers, reducing it still further as the pace increases. The pupil must abandon all thought of making the bow jump, also he must avoid pressing it on the string. The whole action must be free and bold and the tempo for this exercise should be not slower than M.M. crotchet = 100. At first it will be found impossible to get as far as the semiquavers without some confusion. At the first sign of irregularity the pupil should stop, pause a moment, and then recommence with the semibreves. It should be seen that the bow is not gripped too tightly through over-anxiety or excitement. It will need patience on the part of teacher and pupil alike, but both will be gratified when suddenly the bow is seen to jump naturally and the Sautille is won.
There is one phrase in connexion with bowing that irritates me greatly, and that is a "loose wrist." As a technicality it is of course all right, but the insisting on the literal application of the term has been a stumbling block to many violinists. Ladies have come to me saying, "Do you think my wrist loose enough for me to play the violin?" Accompanying the query with a violent flapping of the hand that would almost make one think they were desirous of emulating the lobster's ability to cast away a claw at will. Upon making such persons hold a pencil or penholder (I dared not let them handle a bow!) it was found that the wrist became stiff and unyielding. The wrist that was loose when all the muscles were flaccid became rigid when a few were exerted sufficiently to hold a light object.
Thus it will be seen that the apparent looseness of a violinist's wrist is not really such, but is the dominating of one set of muscles by another. Many teachers say that one should have the thumb tight and the wrist loose. A manifest absurdity when one considers that a most important thumb muscle extends right across the wrist. It should therefore be well understood that what is implied by the technical expression "loose," is, in reality, "control." If it were really looseness, it would present no difficulty to any one not afflicted with an ossification. It is to gain this extreme independence of each set of muscles that long years are taken up in monotonous exercises. The arm of a violinist has to be trained in a manner directly opposite to that of an athlete. In the latter we find an exemplification of the saying, "Unity is Strength." All the muscles act in perfect accord to the same end. With the violinist, on the other hand, there is a constant opposition of forces; the larger muscles are kept down and many smaller muscles are developed that have lost all use in the arm of an athlete.
Concerning the fingers of the right hand I advocate holding them close together—not cramped, but just lightly touching. Some players recommend the parting of the first finger from the others as giving greater leverage over the bow. It certainly has that effect, but I advise it to be used very sparingly and in fortissimo passages only. It is a license one may admit in an artist, but to my pupils who are in the earlier stages I entirely forbid it. I should only permit it in the case of a thumb so short as not to reach far enough into the centre of the hand to give the right amount of control. If a pupil is taught from the first to use this extreme leverage he is likely to develop a rough tone. When he has attained the mastery of the bow he can use his own judgment as to the occasional employment of this reserve force. These remarks I apply also to violoncello bowing. Unless the pupil's hand be weak the first finger should be held back until the whole art of bowing is mastered. All these observations are addressed to soloists: in orchestral work such retention of force is unnecessary. I notice that where players use up all the available leverage of the hand from the outset, they are compelled to employ the weight of the arm to reinforce it for special effects. Another reason—and an important one—for keeping the fingers together, is that of appearance. Nothing is more unsightly than to see the fingers of the right hand spread out claw fashion, and I quite concur with Sympson that no posture or movement should offend the eye.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE SLOW BOW—THE RAPID WHOLE BOW—STACCATO—BOWING STUDIES AND SOLOS—CONCLUSION.
Returning for a moment to the anxiety of the average fiddler to acquire a good Sautille, it seems to me absurd that such importance should be attached to it when, in reality, the test of a violinist's ability lies in his command of "slow bows." Too much attention cannot be paid to the study of sustained bowing which can be practised in a variety of ways. Firstly, long drawn semibreves—at one of the Continental Conservatoires they make the violin students play scales of two octaves, taking one bow to each note, the same to last two minutes, thus the whole scale, ascending and descending, occupies one hour! The command obtained by this sort of work is enormous. To vary the monotony of semibreves the student can then play scales in semiquavers, making one bow last out ten, twelve, or more scales in two octaves. Another useful variety of the same thing is to practise some succession of notes in which the bow requires to continually pass from one string to the next, such as:
These should be played as many times as possible in one bow. Here the command of the bow on the string is not only greatly increased, but the wrist is well exercised at the same time.
The same thing should be carried out on the third and fourth strings thus:
It is a good thing to make the pupil (if endowed with sufficient intelligence) work out a series of such mechanical exercises, he will this way take a much greater interest in the work, a point to which I attach great importance, for I consider physical exercises, however conscientiously carried out, do little good if the mind is fatigued or absent.
Of scarcely less importance is the study of rapid whole bows. The pupil should be made to draw the bow from end to end as rapidly as he can without losing control of the bow, and it must be seen that the pressure does not vary in any way. The bow should be set on firmly at the heel, held there for, say, a crotchet, then drawn, without any swelling of the tone in the centre of the bow, smartly to the point where it must stop suddenly without any change of pressure. This is not found an easy thing to accomplish, but "perseverance overcometh all difficulties." The teacher must not be satisfied until the pupil can draw a rapid up or down stroke stopping so suddenly and firmly as to make the note sound as though cut off. In practising this, the bow should remain firmly on the string between each stroke; whether the bow travels or is stationary the pressure must be unchanged.
Staccato bowing is a much misunderstood branch of technics; I do not mean the detached staccato, but that form in which a series of notes is played in one bow yet have a detached effect on the ear. It is a pity that one word should have to stand for two totally different forms of bowing. I have heard and read many varying descriptions of the "bowed-staccato" and its method of production. Of course it is highly probable that some players attain it differently to others, but as I see no anatomical reason for such differences of action it seems a waste of energy to mechanically produce what already exists in nature. I have no doubt a great deal of this gratuitous variegation of staccato technique comes from teachers not fully understanding their own movements, or perceiving a portion of the action required and laying all stress on that one feature alone. But unless one goes to the prime source of the matter a perfect staccato cannot be attained.
This most important factor, as I should have thought everyone of common sense would at once perceive, is nothing less than the wrist. Yet I have known some teachers who confine their attention to the action of the fingers, letting the wrist follow as best it can. It is from such teachers, usually, that we receive the preposterous statement that the upper half of the bow only should be used for this bowing; some, even, limiting it still further to the up-bow. Now if the wrist be first well exercised the co-operation of the fingers will come naturally, and a perfect staccato from end to end in either up or down stroke will be attained.
It should be practised slowly and firmly at first on one note thus:
The bow remaining on the string between each note. The action is really no different to ordinary bowing; it is simply a short crisp stroke of about an inch in length, a short interval of silence (without lifting the bow) and then another similar stroke in the same direction, this being continued to the end of the hair. The part played by the forefinger is to impart a certain "attack" to each note, and is best produced by a slight turn of the wrist instead of an independent pressure of the finger itself. This "attack" is what the Germans call "ansatz," and consists in making a slight sound at the initial impulse of each note somewhat resembling the hard pronunciation of the letter "K." This is a most important sound, and one that adds greatly to the crispness of one's playing. It should be produced in the hand, however, as if the arm is called on for this purpose the tone will become gritty and harsh. In commencing the study of staccato bowing it is well to confine oneself to the up-bow form at first. Great care must be exercised when reaching the lower half of the bow that the notes remain of equal duration and loudness. Just below the centre of the bow there is found a curious turning point, a sort of corner that is very difficult to get round. It is even more noticeable in down bow staccato.
This turning point is in the wrist, for at that part of the stroke the most important change in the position of this joint takes place. Therefore, as the muscles are so occupied in their internal movements, they are not so ready to control the tendency to vibrate in the bow. Thus, then, as a bad bow is nowhere so easily controlled as a good one, some inferior bows become quite unmanageable when the attention of the wrist muscles is so divided. Consequently it is useless to attempt the attainment of staccato without first being provided with a thoroughly well-balanced bow. In commencing the down bow staccato, all tendency to lean on the string and so drag the bow along in a series of jerks must be checked at once. The bow should be lightly carried at the heel. This will seem difficult, but practice will be well repaid.
It may not be out of place to give here a short list of studies and solos that are concerned chiefly with the art of bowing. Of course bowing studies are also to be found in all good schools and books of studies.
CASORTI, "The Technic of the Bow."
DANCLA, "L'Art de l'Archet" (quite easy).
HAAKMAN, "Steadiness and flexibility of the Bow."
MEERTZ, "Twelve Etudes Elementaires" (giving the six fundamental bowings).
PAPINI, "L'Archet" (the most complete work on the subject).
POZNANSKI, "The Violin and Bow" (contains excellent photographs of positions).
Sautille can be studied in a pleasing manner by practising pieces of the "Moto Perpetuo" type. Of these the best are those by Paganini, Ries, Moszkowski, Papini, G. Saint-George and E. German.
Of solos devoted to particular forms of bowing, the most notable are:
DE BERIOT, "Le Tremolo."
KONTSKI, "La Cascade" (tremolo).
PANOFKA, "Le Staccato."
PRUME, "Les Arpeges."
VIEUXTEMPS, "Les Arpeges."
VIEUXTEMPS, 1st Concerto in E (staccato).
BAZZINI, "Ronde de Lutins" (saltando staccato).
In an earlier section of this work I alluded to the bow as being "tongue-like"; it is something more, for it is also the breath of the violin. As breathing is to a vocalist so is bowing to a violinist. It governs the phrasing, or, rather, is governed by it in the first instance and then controls its delivery to the listener. Thus it will be seen that too much attention cannot be paid to the real Art of Bowing. By which I do not mean the brilliant technical feats of arpeggio, staccato, tremolo, etc., but the pure legato bowing of cantabile passages. It is in such song-like movements that the true artist reveals himself by the nearness with which he approaches that highest of all musical instruments, the human voice. Pure liquid tone, the inflexions suggested rather than insisted on, clear phrasing and an avoidance of all extravagance are the hall marks of an artist, and not the possession of brilliant technique alone. To those who are content with superficial glitter electro plate is as good as sterling metal. But critics of discernment (by which I do not mean all those who write concert notices for the daily papers) require something of more lasting value.