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

... the sources in detail ...


John Lenton (1657 - 1719)
The Gentleman’s Diversion, or the Violin Explained (London, 1693)

John Lenton was a violinist and composer, and a member of the Twenty-Four Violins at the royal court from 1681. He must have known and played with Henry Purcell, which lends particular significance to his comments and instructions in this tutor.
After the customary introductory pages of basic theory, Lenton leaps straight into the issues of bowing. He wisely starts:
"It would be a difficult undertaking to prescribe a general rule for Bowing, the humours of Masters being very Various, and what is approved by one would be condemned by another, neither do I know any other way of bringing it into a method, but by Collecting all manner of Movements and setting marks over or under them, to direct the motion of the Bow; but this would be of tedious consequence..."
So he proceeds then with a few generalities, starting with bowing in common time:
" ... if you have an odd Note before the first Barr it must be struck with an up Bow, and you must be sure always to order your Bow of a length proportional to the Note you are going to hit ..."
To "correct" the bowing when two crotchets follow a minim, you play two ups, and if two crochets precede a minim you can either play both with a down, or play as it comes, and re-take a down (marked with an "*d") on the next bar-line.

He follows with a couple of lines of examples, showing many different possibilities, but without exception organised to achieve a down bow on the bar line.

The next section deals with bowing in triple time. Once again, the principle of a down bow on every bar line rules supreme. The only exception is "... where your Notes move of an equal vallue, two, three or more Barrs, be they Minims, Crotchets, Quavers, or Semiquavers, in three, six, nine, or twelve in a Barr, (except in three Quavers) [he probably means in 3/8 time, see the second example] your Bow must move equally down and up, till you meet an alteration in the Notes, which will require some preparation for 2 down, or two up Bows

A section entitled "Of ordering the Bow and Instrument" follows:
" ... let your Bow be as long as your Instrument, well mounted and stiff Hair'd, it will otherwise totter upon the String in drawing a long stroke; hold it with your Thumb half under the Nutt, half under the Hair from the Nutt, and let it rest upon the middle of the first Joynt, place all your fingers upon the Bow, pretty close, (or for the better guiding of it) you may place the out-side of the first joynt of the little finger against the Wood, let the Bow move always within an inch of the Bridge directly forward and backward, let your Bow-wrist move loosly, (but not much bent), and hold not up your Elbow, more than necessity requires..."
Notice that he recommends the 'old-fashioned' (French) bow-hold, of thumb-on-the-hair, suggesting that Matteis' method "to hold the bow by the wood onely" was not universally adopted. Does this give us a clue how to perform Purcell?
One more thing to note - in his discussion of how to hold the violin, Lenton expressly advises against holding the violin like Nicola Matteis:
"as I would have none get a habit of holding an Instrument under the Chin, so I would have them avoid placing it as low as the Girdle, which is a mongrel sort of way us'd by some in imitation of the Italians".