bows for the viola d'amore

A Bow for the Viola D'Amore update 2010

I have been asked many times what I think a viola d'amore bow ought to be. I continue to change my mind. Nowadays I most often play on bows I have made myself. This has to do more with the feeling of anxiety a really beautiful and precious bow creates in me (on the road and in rehearsals,) than for any musical reason. I find I don't worry at all about my own bows.

But to think about the musical side for a moment: I have read an account by a player writing in 1789, in which he recommends a very long bow for the viola d'amore, half a foot longer than a violin bow! However, as my own work mostly involves early 18th century repertoire, I did  come up with, together with maker Stephen Marvin, what I imagine what would be a most suitable viola d'amore bow for baroque repertoire. The bow that resulted (below )I used on all my recordings.

To the best of my knowledge there is no way to determine whether players of the early 18th century thought of the viola d'amore as having different requirements from the violin or viola.  Personally I tend to think they would have been surprised by the question. All we have, apart from the late 18th century writer mentioned above is a picture of an early bow hanging with a viola d'amore, (with wire strings and wire frets!), in the Germanische Museum in Nurnberg, (reproduced in the May 2001 issue of The Strad).

I settled, after ten years, on a long bow with a clip in frog, strong, and on the long and heavy side. A violin bow works fine on the upper four strings- often all you need in the early repertoire, but the extra weight (56 grams) of the first bow pictured below helps a great deal to make the lower strings respond with a more focused sound. The greater than usual length of 72 cm I find helps me give chords a greater than usual variety of breaks and spreads. I opted for a clip in frog  because I want to believe that the latest research might be correct; so far no problems with tensioning. Finally, some have speculated that a viola d' amore bow should have a wider spread of hair than a violin or a viola, in order to play with less pressure.

Look for more information of the dating of the screw mechanism in the work of Dr. Robert Seletsky, whose updated article has appeared in Early Music, and in the viol/violin bow article by Hans Reiners, in "Chelys" The Journal of the Viola da Gamba society (Britain), volume 28, 2000.

Please have a look at Stephen Marvin's site for more information on bows: BOWS