Dear Mr. Puppy,
I hear the 18th century was a very transitional time for bowmakers. Can you tell me what that was like?
Part I of IV:
It seemed to me that violinists were everywhere and from every country, searching for a means to make a living in this fecundity of a city. I recall Viotti, one of the most successful violinists around. He had just arrived from a successful concert tour with his teacher Pugnani. They traveled to Switzerland, Dresden, Warsaw, and the new city of St Petersburg in Russia. Of course, these foreigners brought their instruments and bows with them to Paris. The Italians, French, and Germans had their own styles of playing; so much so, in fact, that their mannerisms and characters were parodied on the theatre stage and in performances at the cafés and fairs. The demands of the moment drove innovation. To please the public the theatres demanded larger audiences, more volume, and longer compositions. Violin strings were made thicker and higher-tension to attain greater volume and durability. The old bows did not match up to the demands of the strings and repertoire and any musician of standing needed to purchase new equipment. Old citizen Tourte and his sons and daughter made the first innovations between 1770 and 1780. Unfortunately, these were the years of the war at sea between the French and the English that created a halt in the arrival of tropical hardwoods to the capital. The new material for bows, Pernambuco wood, was already in high demand as a material from which the beautiful red dyes for flags and military uniforms for foreign states were extracted. As such, the price increased to the unbelievable cost of 1/3 of a Louis d’or, once the tax, shipping, and third parties were paid off. Most of the wood that did arrive at the docks here in Paris and at Marseilles was unfit for bow making, as it was either crooked, cracked, or stained with bilge water from the long voyage. Many pounds of this wood might only yield wood good enough for one bow.
*Ask Mr. Puppy aka Giuseppe Puppo, an 18th-century concert violinist, answers our questions about his career and times. Can you find Mr. Puppy in the painting?