A Timeline history of the Violin Bow - from c. 1600 - 1800

... the sources in detail ...


Cambini, Giuseppe Maria (1746 - 1825)
Nouvelle méthode théorique et pratique pour le violon (Paris, c. 1795)

We know remarkably little about Cambini. He was Italian, but moved to Paris in the beginning of the 1770s, where he remained for at least 20 years, and where he published his violin method. He was active in Paris, performing at the Concert Spirituel, and composing oratorios, chamber music, orchestral pieces (over 80 Sinfonie Concertante) but seems not to have been as well appreciated as many of his contempories. According to his article "Ausführung der Instrumentalquartetten" in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, no. 47, 22 Aug. 1804, he had the honour in his youth to play quartets with Manfredi, Nardini and Boccherini.
The Méthode is divided into three parts. After an Introduction - on the manner of holding the violin and bow, Part I deals with fingering and shifting using scales, Part II on how to manage the bow (and subsequent discussion of ornamentation), and Part III "l'Exécution", a series of short pieces
From the Introduction:
§4 The Bow is the soul, the thought, the spirit of the Violin. The latter is just a simple robot that mechanics has formed; the fingers are the springs which set it in motion; the bow alone makes it speak and sing, and it is more difficult to manage than the voice itself; nature has not favoured it with any of his gifts ...
§5 The Bow must be held between the tip of the thumb and the first phalanx of the index finger near the joint; the rest of the fingers will rest on the stick, but with almost no force whatsoever: they should only be used to balance it and give it the equilibrium necessary to attack the instrument, as well as to leave it without making the strings groan. The little finger above all must always be prepared to support and raise the stick to do these two operations. Once the bow is placed on the strings, it is necessary that it constantly travels at the distance of "un demi pouce" from the bridge without ever stopping. It is only, as we will see below, to increase the sound, that [the bow] should approach it [the bridge] more; but never more than three "lignes de distance" even when you want to get the most volume.
[To clarify; the ligne is an old French measurement of distance. There were 12 lignes to one pouce (French inch), which gives one ligne = 2.25mm. So the normal distance from the bridge is un demi pouce = 6 lignes, which is 13.5 mm. And to increase the sound we approach the bridge not more than three lignes, just under 7 mm,
§6 The arm must steer [conduire], but the wrist alone must direct. Please note that steering and directing are not synonymous here; one, is used to simply express the path that the bow must travel; the other, to communicate a more or less strong weight, but always flexible and gradual, according to the volume of the sound that one wants to draw from the instrument.
§7 It is necessary that the end of the thumb rests in the little [hollow] of the frog, and that the stick tilts a little towards the fingerboard without forgetting that it is necessary to use the entire length of the bow as much as possible. In the action of bowing down and up, the wrist must bend and raise alternately, [which] operation is necessary for the bow always to describe the same path on every string. The arm detaches from the body during the down bow, and approaches a little on the up bow. One must be sensitive to all of this if we want to be careful never to deviate from the straight path that [the bow] must always travel.

In the second part he starts with a discussion of bowing in general, moving on to a rather quaint explanation of the messa di voce;
Down and up are the two operations of the bow, but their different procedures are divided in so many ways that it would be difficult to calculate them all. What should comfort the student, however, is that when he has succeeded in executing the small number that I present to him in these examples, he will be able to easily understand the most difficult bow strokes. And nothing can embarrass him.
The down bow is done by placing the bow on the string near the frog and letting it travel its entire length to the tip.
On the contrary, an up bow begins at the tip and travels all the way to the frog. It is necessary to prepare to put the bow on the strings by supporting it well horizontally so that it does not fall on the string but that it is applied first without any weight so as not to scream, either with up or down bow. From the moment it is placed it should never stop, and as it travels its length, the wrist working with the arm presses on the string, continually increasing this weight to the middle and starting to decrease it as it travels to the end of the stroke.

(place, press, increase, diminish, die away)
same process without ever detaching it from the string unless you have to for another reason.

He follows with a couple of scales with a messa di voce marked on each note;
Do this exercise as instructed on the next two scales, and start again if the bow makes the string cry or moan in an unpleasant manner. This will only happen if the bow stops, or if the weight is not distributed with a sufficiently methodical gradation.

Then comes a discussion of the detacher et couler;
The "detacher" is done by alternately playing up and down, never quite lifting the bow from the string. But by attacking the string with a sharp and sudden blow, by giving the bow a sufficient amount of weight and supporting it with all the fingers so that it retains the balance necessary not to make the string screech [gémir] while observing to vibrate with each stroke be it up or down, which can be done only by using the middle of the bow, as being the part which has more force. As the length [of the stroke] is at most, four or five ‘lignes’ [around 1 cm] , it is the wrist alone that does this operation. The same stroke with the same force and with the same balance, must be given with both the up and down bow, always starting however with the down.

This is much as one might expect (although the strokes are very short?), apart maybe from his definition of martellement, which is apparently up- (or down-) bow staccato. Next comes the "couler":
The slur is done by playing several notes in the same bow stroke smoothly on the string simply observing all the time to save bow according to the number of notes that must be slurred in the same stroke which can be from two up to 24 or 30 depending on the speed of movement prescribed by the subject. You can also execute these slurs with up or down bow.

After a short section on mixing separate and slurred strokes, he moves on to "de l'Expression, et des Accens". Here he writes:
The Bow can express the affections of the soul: but besides that we lack signs to indicate them; these signs, even if one invented them, would become so numerous that the music already too full with such performance markings would become for the eyes a shapeless heap almost impossible to decipher. I would feel happy if I could only make the pupil feel by a small number of examples the difference between the bad, the mediocre, the good, and the excellent, in the variety of expressions that we can give to the same passage. I will choose for the moment, just two phrases, one taken from the elegant and tender Boccherini, the other from an Andante by the famous Haydn. Here is the first phrase [Boccherini]:

I suppose that in executing this phrase one could think of nothing save the mechanism of the fingers and bow, playing every up and down bow with equal weight, always producing a uniform and constantly loud sound. This would create a meaningless and raucous noise, which would invite no one to listen to the rest. In short, the intention of the author would be missing. If one then plays the same phrase in the following manner, and with the fingerings I have indicated, one will make only half the volume of sound issue from the instrument, although always equal throughout.

One will hear that there is already an intention to reach us, albeit vaguely, and without creating in us any great interest in hearing what follows. The author would be able to say, All right, I have your attention; but I have not persuaded you: while my intention was both to persuade you and to move you. Then play the phrase in the following manner, increase and diminish the sound as much as the markings show you. Above all, think that you wish to move me...electrify your arm with the fire of this thought...so that your bow becomes your tongue and your countenance; so that it tells me: What! You know that I am innocent, you see me as unhappy! And you will not deign to console me! Then, yourself strongly moved by the energy of this expressive interpetation, declaim the phrase as I have written it for you.

You will then have the pleasure of seeing the spectator moved, immobile, and ready to forget everything in order to listen to you.