In the making: François Xavier Tourte and l’Archet de Viotti

Ellie Nimeroski
Musician type:
bow camber, bow mechanism, paris conservatoire, tourte bow, transitional bow, viotti
Started in 2015
18th century music, 19th century music



When bow maker François Xavier Tourte opened his workshop door to young Italian violinist Giovanni Batista Viotti, newly landed in Paris and blazing with ambition after his 1781 concert tour, their encounter literally set into motion the shaping of the “modern” violin bow.  Tourte’s fine design would lead French bow making to the height of its brilliant reputation—continuing to outshine the competition, even today—and this bow model would set the stage for the French school’s bowing technique. Viotti’s playing legacy, associated with this bow’s new technical possibilities, was also harnessed by the post-revolutionary Paris conservatoire, his expressive bowing being especially valued by Baillot.  At the closing of an epoch when violin bows were still identified by their players (rather than their makers), Viotti and Tourte were further bound by the bow’s name, given in Woldemar’s 1798 violin method as L’archet de Viotti.

Despite the clear connection between the two, their alleged encounter is only thinly described by Fétis in 1856, and historical records are at a loss.  How did the revolutionary form of the bow come to be?  What did the maker perceive in the player and how did it inspire him to render new musical intention into the materials? The artistic research delves into the early creative periods of both artists in ancien régime Paris, using my experiences in bow making and as a violinist to enact both perspectives and to propose a vivid theory of movement and mechanism, sounding out the ever-present conservatoire evaluation phrase, avoir de l’archet.