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

... the sources in detail ...


Giuseppe Tartini (1692 - 1770)
The first chapter of Regole per ben suonar il Violino (thought to be written between 1752 and 1756, published in Paris, 1771 as Traité des agréments de la musique )

Giuseppe Tartini's Regole per ben suonar il Violino is one of the most significant tutors we have, shining light on performance practice from not only a highly competent and respected composer/performer but also an influential teacher. The most part of the treatise in concerned with ornamentation, but the first chapter - in the manuscript version - consists of some Regole per le Arcate (rules for bowing). The chapter is a little bit problematic for English speakers, as one of his key points is to distinguish between Cantabile and Sonabile music. While we all know what Cantabile means (so much so, that it's not usually translated), Sonabile is a different matter. "Instrumental" or "playable", as opposed to "singing" is the implication, but neither is a very easy translation. It's often translated as allegro (hardly itself a translation), which I fear leads to all sorts of misunderstandings, as Sonabile in itself has no implication of tempo. So I've left Sonabile untranslated, to avoid imposing an interpretation on the word! Although the chapter is not exclusively about bowing, that is certainly its main thrust, and it's so valuable, I quote it in full:
One must distinguish between the playing of the Cantabile and the Sonabile; in Cantabile the move from one note to the next must be made so perfectly that no interval of silence is perceptible between them; on the contrary in Sonabile passages, the notes should be somewhat detached. To distinguish which is Cantabile and which Sonabile, see if the movement [andamenti - literally ‘way of going’] is by step, then it’s Cantabile and should be played legato; if the music moves by leap, it is Sonabile and should be played detached. Moreover, since music expresses sentiments, it is important to keep these separated; to avoid confusion, therefore, a short break should be made when the sentiment changes, even though the passage is a Cantabile one.
As regards shifting, it is impossible to give any absolute rules, but the student should adopt whatever method he finds most comfortable in each case, and he should therefore practise the hand shifts in every possible way so that he is prepared for every situation that may arise.
It is also necessary to observe consistency in performance, so if a passage moving by step or by leap is repeated two or more times, it should be played Cantabile or Sonabile respectively at each repetition; if it is ornamented, it should always be played with the same ornaments, the aim being to achieve perfect consistency.
As regards bowing there are no definite rules for determining whether one should begin with a down-bow or up-bow. On the contrary, all passages should be practised in both ways, in order to gain complete mastery of the bow in both up and down strokes, It is also necessary to maintain consistency within any passage, carrying on with the type of bowing used at the beginning; thus if two or four notes are tied, continue in the same manner to the end of the passage.
To draw a beautiful tone from the instrument, place the bow on the strings gently at first and then increase the pressure. If the full pressure is applied immediately, a harsh, scraping sound will result.
Always use the middle of the bow, never play near the point or heel. In a passage of quick notes the appoggiatura should be passed over lightly; if the notes are long, the appoggiatura should be long and sustained.
Where one beat of the bar is divided between two or more notes, the note falling on the beat should he accented. If several notes moving by step are played in a single bow stroke, be careful to play near the middle of the bow, otherwise the tone will diminish. The pressure increase should take place in the middle of the bow, not at the point.
The bow should be held firmly between the thumb and forefinger and lightly by the other three fingers, in order to produce a strong, sustained tone. To increase the tone, press harder on the bow with the fingers and also press down the strings more firmly with the fingers of the other hand.
Notes ascending or descending by semitones should always be played in a single bow. In a slurred passage, if the first note does not have the same time value as the following ones, it should he played in a separate bow.
If a passage consists partly of leaps and partly of stepwise movements, bow the former in one way and the latter in another. For spiccato notes [not “off the string”, but what we today would call “up-bow staccato”] do not pass the middle of the bow, but try to play them at the point; to achieve perfect execution with up-bows, it is sufficient to practise with down-bows.
To know the character of a piece, whether it should be played allegro or andante, observe whether the movement of the parts is the same as that of the principal part; if so, the piece is allegro, and Sonabile. If, on the other hand, the parts do not all have the same movement [if they don’t move together?] , then the piece is Cantabile. If two passages of a Cantabile character follow one another, see if the first can be played in a somewhat more Sonabile style, or half Cantabile half Sonabile, in order that the following passage may seem more Cantabile by contrast.
For appoggiaturas without trill, one should take a little time from the first note and put it back on the second note.
To achieve a true Sonabile style in Allegro, use short bow strokes.
After a Cantabile piece it is best to finish with a Sonabile one.
If the hand has to be shifted several times during a passage, it should be done between the staccato notes, not the legato, in order that no gaps are heard in the latter case.
If it is desired to play in a single bow a stepwise moving passage containing appoggiaturas, a brief pause should be made before each appoggiatura. Playing all the notes slurred would result in the appoggiaturas sounding like principal notes.