The bow is one of the most important tools ever invented in musical
history because it made possible some of the most important instruments such as
the violin, viola and cello.
Historians agree that stringed instruments existed long before the bow
except that these instruments were plucked not bowed. Bowing can be traced back
to central Asia where it is thought to have originated and then spread
throughout the world. Wall paintings of bowed instruments have been found in
places such as Tajikistan in central Asia.
Other evidence is that central Asia is a society of horse peoples such as
the Huns and the Mongols. These people would use horse hair for their military
bows. It is agreed that the bow was probably discovered when some Mongol warrior
decided to try out his horse hair bow on a harp or lyre. This is the most likely
origin of the bow.
Once the bow was invented it spread very quickly, the central Asian horse
peoples lived along the Silk Road on which goods and innovations would travel
for thousands of miles. Because of this the bow would soon appear in many
locations throughout the world.
The modern bow
The bow caused a sensation after it was introduced into France in the
early 19th century. Francois Tourte is given credit for honing the bow to
perfection in the same way that Antonia Stradivari mastered the art of violin
making. He was trained as a watchmaker and started out making bows along with
his father and brother. After much painstaking research he came to the
conclusion that Brazil Wood was the ultimate material for violin bows because of
its strength, weight and elasticity.
Modern bow making reached its pinnacle in Paris between the mid 19th and
20th centuries, when bow makers would travel from all over the world to learn
from the French masters.
Today violin bows are generally made by specialist bow makers although
some violin makers have made their own bows as well.
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