1664 in John Playford's “A Brief Introduction to the Skill of Musick, London 1664." "the Bow is held in the right hand, between the ends of the Thumb and the three first fingers, the Thumb being staid upon the hair at the the Nut, and the three fingers resting upon the wood ...
1677 - Johann Jacob Prinner's Musicalischer Schlissel. "...the violin bow is drawn with the right hand, but in different ways I have seen specially in Italy that most hold the bow just between the thumb and one finger, that is, only with two, on the wood, in the middle of the bow, where it’s more or less in balance, and bowed with that such that most true artists don’t approve ..."... but rather say that one should hold the bow nearer the frog, with the thumb on the hair and to lay the other fingers on the wood, so that one can tension the hair of the bow with the thumb, and with pressure one can give the bow power/strength”
Prinner is explicit here that the bow-on-the-stick hold is Italian. Looking through the other sources, we find a remarkable consistency; Germany, France and UK (before the Italian influence), thumb under - Italy, thumb on.
John Lenton, The Gentleman’s Diversion, or the Violin Explained (London, 1693): "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, ..."
Roger North, reporting on Nicola Matteis in 1728: ”he taught the English to hold the bow by the wood onely and not to touch the hair which was no small reformation."
Georg Falck Idea boni cantoris (Nürnberg, 1688); ... [the student] must learn to grasp and hold the bow correctly, such that the right thumb slightly presses the hair next to the frog, so that the hair well drawn can bring a full stroke and sound from the strings, and then he must take the wood of the bow between the two front joints of the fingers ...“
Daniel Merck in Compendium Musicae Instrumentalis Chelicae, (Augsburg, 1695) is somewhat less useful; "How the bow is to be held, you should learn yourself"
Georg Muffat in the Preface to his Florilegium Secundum (Passau, 1698) gives us the clearest 17th-century summary of the situation; "The majority of German violinists and other players of upper string instruments hold the bow as the French [Lullists] do, pressing the hair with the thumb and resting the other fingers on the stick of the bow; ... The Italians, among others, differ in playing these upper instruments in that they never touch the hair; ..." [implicit, then, they - the Italians - have their thumb on the stick]
Michel Pignolet de Montéclair in 1711 writes: "The bow is held with the right hand, the four fingers placed on the wood, and the thumb under the frog which holds the hair."
Michel Corrette in 1738 is as explicit as Muffat: "I show here the two different ways of holding the bow. The Italians hold it at three quarters by placing four fingers on the wood at A. and the thumb underneath at B. The French hold it next to the frog, by placing the first, second and third fingers on the wood at C.D.E. the thumb underneath the hair at F. and the little finger next to the wood at G. These two methods of holding the bow are equally good, it depends on the master who teaches you.
Francesco Rognoni 1620; "The viole da brazzo, especially the violin, is an instrument in itself crude and harsh, if it is not tempered and softened by gentle/delicate [soave] bowing.”... "The passaggio must be made of equal notes and such that they can be heard note by note, not too fast or too slow, but following a middle road, drawing the bow well above the viola.”
Playford 1664; "you are first to draw an even stroke over each string severally, making each string yield a clear and distinct Sound.”
Bismantova 1677; "The whole art of playing the violin consists in knowing how to manage the bow well, and in making good bowing, in drawing a long bow ...'
Prinner 1677; "... with which to draw a steady long stroke ..."
Falck 1688; "the hair, well drawn, achieves a full stroke and sound from the strings ... The strokes should be according to the value and length of the notes long, full, and even on the strings, neither too near the bridge, nor too far from it.”
Lenton 1693; "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;" and; "let the Bow move always within an inch of the Bridge directly forward and backward ..."
Merck 1695; "accustom himself to a nice long stroke, and above all should not rush the up bow”
Muffat 1698; " Moreover ... all the finest masters, regardless of their nationality, agree with each other that the longer, steadier, sweeter, and more even the bow-stroke is, the finer it is considered;..."
Francesco Rognoni: ”who lift [the bow] with such force that they make more noise with the bow than sound. What is more, they do not bow four eighth notes or sixteenths which are equal one to the next but they go on with the bow jumping on the viola so that it appears to devour the notes ...".
Where to Bow:
Bismantova 1677, "passaggi [diminutions], which should be played at the point of the bow, with a short stroke.”
Falck 1688, "the coloratura and quick little runs should be played at the point where the bow is light.“
North on Matteis: "he touched his devision with the very point;” (With a 'conventional' baroque bow (ca 1730's model 66 - 70 cm), the place to make the fast notes lively, sprightly and articulate seemed to me to be around the middle of the bow - the place where the bow might just bounce if you let it, but don't! The tip just seemed very far away and very 'flat' in effect. But with the little bows, the tip is firstly much 'closer', so to say, and the natural articulation of the short stick gives you the lively sprightly articulation without having to risk bouncing around out of control!)
’Up' and 'Down' bow in 17th century
Francesco Geminiani, in The Art of Playing on the Violin, 1751 asks in bowing exercise no. VIIIto take "... Care not to follow that wretched Rule of drawing the Bow down at the first Note of every Bar”.
Ricardo Rognoni: "Since on string instruments it is difficult to pull and push the bow in beginning to play, you must always pull the bow if you play the Viola da Gamba, and also the Viola da Braccio;”. "But short groppetti are made pushing and pulling as you wish”. "because on the Viola da Gamba the bow must be pushed on the eighths and quarters and on the viola da braccio it must be pulled on the eighths and quarters, this clarifies his confusion in the first phrase - at least insofar as confirming the two families bow in the opposite direction. But "pushed [or "pulled"] on the eighths and quarters" is far from clear. Which is disturbing particularly "because above all the bowing must always be done correctly." Once again, I presume that he means that for the violin family, the bow should be pulled (a down bow) on the odd eighths and quarters - so you bow "the right way round".
Francesco Rognoni: “Everyone should know the true way of playing upon the soprano, as far as bowing is concerned. When whole note rests are found, you must begin by pulling the bow downwards; when there are half notes or sospiri, by pushing it upwards. Similarly, when you find a passaggio beginning directly in sixteenths or thirty- seconds, pull downwards; if the passaggio is preceded by an eighth note you may push the bow upwards and this is the natural way“.
Mersenne, 1637: "But before starting the piece of music, one must consider that one should always pull the bow down on the first note of the bar, and push it up on the following note"
Zanetti (1645): gives very specific bowing instructions (by means of "T" and "P" in the music) - "bowing as it comes" principle.
Johann Andreas Herbst, 1658 "Notice that, at the beginning of the music: the bow should be drawn against the right hand. And when the whole rests are present, then one has to continue with the down-bow; but if half rests or quarter notes are found, then up bow follows." . The expression; "drawn against the right hand" [gegen der rechten Hand gezogen werden] (marked with "T" and "P" - again from Rognoni, Tirare and Pontare) start exclusively with a down bow, unless, exactly as said by Francesco Rognoni, they start with an upbeat, or an eighth followed by sixteenths.
John Playford, 1664: "when you see an even number of Quavers or Semiquavers, as 2,4,6,8 tied together, your Bow must move up or forwards, though it was up at the Note immediately before; but if you have an odd number, as 3,5 or 7 (which happens very often by reason of a prickt Note or an odd quaver rest) there your Bow must draw back at the first Note."
Bartolomeo Bismantova, 1677 - down bow on the barlines, a retake rather than two ups for two 16ths following an 8th, two ups on beats 2 and 3 in triple time. Playing a dotted note with a down bow.
Georg Falck, 1688: - start with a down bow; play an up bow after a rest, or an uneven number of notes; adjust either by slurring two 16ths after an 8th, or retaking a down on the first 16th; play all dotted notes with a down bow. In triple time he suggests it doesn't much matter how you bow (down-up-up, down-up-down with a new down on each bar, or as it comes); "as long as the music is not deformed".
John Lenton, 1693: Treatise, The Gentleman's Diversion. " ... 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 ..." . First, you have a clear statement of the "Rule of the Up Bow" - and what good advice about bow distribution!
Daniel Merck's Compendium Musicae Instrumentalis Chelicae, 1695: He emphasises the importance of a down bow on the first beat - and he's concerned (like the Rognoni's) about the importance of getting the bowing right - If one has not learnt the up and down strokes correctly, this leads to an unordered and absurd measure, from which really big mistakes arise.
Georg Muffat (1653 - 1704) - Florilegium Secundum (Passau, 1698)
Georg Muffat was one of the most significant performers, composers and writers of the late 17th century. He studied with Lully, he knew Corelli, his ensemble pieces for strings embrace French and Italian styles, and he was particularly concerned with educating German musicians how to play in the appropriate style. He wrote two collections of dance suites in the French style for ensemble - Florilegium Primum (1695) and Florilegium Secundum (1698). In the Preface to each he gives a few guidelines to how they should be performed. And in particular, the Preface to Florilegium Secundum is an extremely detailed and precise information covering a wide range of topics - fingering, bowing, tempo, Lullian practice and ornamentation, which he beautifully presents with this little couplet:
"Fingering, Bowing, Tempo, Style and Charm Make the violin lively and lovely-sounding".
The Use of the Bow
The majority of German violinists and other players of upper string instruments hold the bow as the French [Lullists] do, pressing the hair with the thumb and resting the other fingers on the stick of the bow; the French hold it the same way when playing the bass. The Italians, among others, differ in playing these upper instruments in that they never touch the hair; and gambists and other bass-players differ in that they place their fingers between the hair and wood of the bow.
However, it is well known that the Lullists, whom the French, the English, those from the Low Countries, and many others follow, all observe an identical way of bowing, even if a thousand of them play together. They all observe the same way of playing the principal notes in the measure: above all, those that begin the measure, those that define the cadence, and those that most clearly emphasise the dance rhythm. This uniformity, so necessary for marking the dance-movement, is not found among our players in Germany, regardless of their excellence. Many gentlemen, on their return from foreign parts, have remarked that such a great difference in sound was often astonishing and that the dances were considerably altered. To obviate this disorder and danger of confusion, I have thought to please the curious by remembering here certain of the principal rules of the French method of bowing. The mark n placed over a note signifies down-bow, and the mark v up-bow.
- The first note in each bar, where there is no rest or breath, should be played down- bow, regardless of its value. This is the principal and almost indispensable rule of the Lullists, on which almost the entire secret of bowing depends, and which differentiates them from the others. All subsequent rules depend on this rule. In order to know how the other notes fall into place and are to be played, one must attend to the following rules.
- In common time, which the theorists call "tempus imperfectum", the measure is divided equally in half. Notes on odd parts of the measure (1, 3, 5, etc.) are played down-bow, and those on even parts (2, 4, 6, etc.) should be played up-bow.