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I just came across a baroque violin bow while browsing for strings, which looks like this:

Baroque violin bow

Is there any real difference between this and a normal violin bow, or is it just cosmetic?


After a quick Google, I found pictures like the following, but this seems to be yet another kind of bow. I can understand the purpose of the design of this, but the design of the bow above seems purely cosmetic to me.

Some other kind of bow

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    A "baroque" bow needs to be fixed. // I'll just let myself out now – Carl Witthoft Feb 13 '18 at 13:12
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In short: Bows varied a lot during the baroque period, and evolved into something pretty similar to a modern bow. The bow in the first picture may be heavier, shorter, and with a less pronounced curve than a typical modern bow, and would be made of a different, less dense type of wood. But the picture doesn't show enough to tell all the detail of this particular instrument. All of these differences would affect the playing as well as the appearance of the bow.

From Wikipedia on Baroque Violins:

Bows

Baroque bows generally look straight or bent slightly outwards in the middle, with an elegant "swan-bill" pointed head. They are typically made from strong, heavy snakewood. By contrast, a modern bow is made from pernambuco and has a marked inwards bend, particularly when the hair is relaxed, and has a "hatchet" head at right-angles to the stick.

Bows underwent more changes within the Baroque period than did violins. Bows of the earlier 17th century were used interchangeably between violins and viols. They were particularly short and light, and well-suited for dance music. Italian music of the first half of the 18th century, for instance the work of Arcangelo Corelli, was played with a longer bow better suited to long, singing notes. It was in response to this continued desire for longer, more legato playing that the inward curve was introduced in the mid 18th-century, and the modern bow derives from designs made by François Tourte in the later 18th century.

The screw mechanism for changing hair tension is first mentioned in a French shop inventory of 1747. It was not universally accepted for over a decade as players were perfectly happy with "clip-in" models: a removable frog held in place by hair tension in a mortise carved into the stick, its tension adjusted by shims between hair and frog surface. However, baroque-style bows produced today almost universally adopt the screw mechanism.

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    The wiki is not quite right on a few points. While the surviving Baroque bows are very often of snakewood, they have survived for that very reason: they were expensive and fancy and thus didn't get thrown out. The more common bows, used by professional musicians (who were not usually as rich as the amateurs) were more likely to be made of European woods such as maple or larch. Pernambuco was even mentioned as a bow wood in the 17th century. And there's at least one screw bow that has the date 1690 on it, and no reason to doubt its authenticity. – Scott Wallace Mar 13 '16 at 20:16
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I'm not a string player (I once tried to learn viola da gamba but gave it up), however I've known a lot of early music string players.

I was once told by a professional Baroque violist that in order to perform all the styles of music from the earliest days of the violin, viola and cello to the present day, if one wants to observe historical performance practice, it is necessary for a string player to own six different kinds of bow, each one constructed differently, and particular to a particular historical and national style period.

So the differences are certainly not cosmetic. Furthermore the music written in each style period (with regard to phrasing, etc.) reflects the capabilities of the design of the bows in use when the composer wrote the music.

Most importantly, up until about the year 1900, all string instruments had strings of sheep gut rather than the modern steel strings. Sheep gut strings have much less tension and tensile strength. I believe that bows from the historical period of sheep gut would have a different design and lower tension in the bow hairs because bowing sheep gut strings would be quite different from bowing modern steel strings. If the modern bow is designed for bowing an instrument with modern steel strings, it stands to reason that it would be designed and held and played differently than a historical bow designed for bowing sheep gut strings.

  • Your "pro Baroque violist" is of the same class as those "vinyl source; tube amp only" pseudo-purist hi-fi folk. Since we don't have any audio recordings from that period, we don't know exactly how people played then, regardless of bow weight, tension, elasticity, etc. – Carl Witthoft Feb 13 '18 at 13:14
  • I'm no violinist either, but in contrast to guitar, steel is only one of a lot of materials offered, and using it in massive form seems more the exception than the rule. Typically it is apparently used for winding a core of a different material. – guidot Jan 27 at 17:06
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The two bows pictured are quite different. The first does not appear to be a 'curved' bow. The second is curved. Curved bows are rare.

With the curved bow players can play all of the strings at the same time. With the standard bow one or two strings are played.

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    The "curved" bow is Albert Schweizer's attempt to reconstruct a supposed Baroque bow capable of playing the quadruple stops of Bach's solo violin music without arpeggiating. Such bows did not exist in Bach's time, however, as far as we know. – Scott Wallace Mar 13 '16 at 20:07

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