A musician can sense whether a bow belongs to the
French, German or British traditions. He may do so
instinctively; yet, such perception has an underlying of technical reasons. The shape of a bow
reveals a certain understanding by the maker of both
the craft’s technique and the music as developed
within each culture.
The French bow making tradition originates in
Mirecourt, a small village in the Vosgian mountains,
somewhat like Cremona was a cradle for violin making.
Most of the French bow makers, who later established
their shop in Paris, were first trained in Mirecourt.
In 1976, Bernard Ouchard had been the last master from
one of the historical families of makers to teach there;
Benoît Rolland was his first student.
Benoît remembers him vividly:
“He was a kind and
sensitive man, caring though rough, who expressed
himself best through his love of music; he owned 250
classical records. He was one of the first to propose
Tourte as a model.
He accomplished the task
of passing on the French tradition of bow making to
us, always with a great humbleness. Had it not been
for his intelligence and true devotion, a lot of this
knowledge would have been lost.”
In France, the rules for becoming a master in the
craft have long been set by custom and historical
heritage. No one can be a self-proclaimed “Master”.
The nation-wide competition for Best Artisan of France
is held every four years, and the demanding
requirements for previous achievements limit
candidacies. The additional higher title of “Master of
the Art of Bowmaking” (Maitre Archetier d’Art) was
only awarded a few times throughout history. A master
must fully comprehend the history of his craft to
project himself, and his craft, towards the future. It
is then his duty to progress, to bring the art to the
new standards of his time, uniting tradition and
innovation, and to thus acquire the musicians’
recognition. Teaching is an additional requirement.
Best Artisan of France in 1979, Maitre Archetier d’Art
in 1983, as he was going through all these steps of
assessment of his work, Benoît came to understand what
makes the essence of such a tradition. He published a
first article on the subject, “Bow Heirs”, in The Strad,
April 2003 and is currently synthesizing his research
in a book. He is investigating not only the legacy of
the main masters, but also the sociology of the craft
and its relation to music.