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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.







The village of Mirecourt


Cambering over ambers


Stain glass portrait of Tourte


French bow making tools


Templates for making bows

 

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