Saturday, 6 November 2010

Broken Bow

Sounds like a James Fennimore Cooper novel? Well, it happened to me this week. At a particularly passionate moment in the last movement of the Beethoven C minor piano trio, my bow went off like a gunshot. The weak point at the tip split off, with tremendous effect.

I had always thought that people broke bows through carelessness,  tightening the bow hair too tight, dropping it or knocking it around. Not so. I have always treated this bow with the utmost care. I store it in the bow tube of my Bam case, wrapped lovingly in chamois cloth. I play with very loose hair, so loose that I sometimes find myself in moments of excitement dragging the stick across the strings. So I can't feel any guilt about this.

Luckily, it was my cheap bow. My good bow, a Morgan Anderson, was safely stashed in the tube. Cheryl, our cellist, said the same thing happened to her, when she was playing a delicate pianissimo.

I am told that this accident reduces the resale value of the bow to zero. But this summer I played with a viola bow that underwent the same trauma, and, after an artful repair, worked just fine. So I am optimistic that my luthier can restore this bow to its former state.

The day before this, we played through Jonathan Newmark's string trio. That's the Jonathan that played piano quartets with us the previous week. It is a lovely piece and definitely playable. His use of whole-tone scales reminded me of the Faure quartet. Faure was 92 when he wrote his quartet, while Jonathan is only pushing sixty - which made me wonder what he will be writing like in another 30 years. Tempo markings are typically Jonathan - quirky and clever - "With an attitude", "Uncomfortably Slow". You can listen to a recording of it here.

I often wonder why amateur quartets are so reticent to play new music. I play with one quartet where the other violinist refused to play anything written after Brahms. Debussy is modern music for him (well, actually, it is modern music, but that's another matter). One reason I so enjoy my regular weekly quartet is that we are all adventurous. We may not be very good, but we are always willing to take a chance. We have played five quartets by budding composers who hear about us and send us their work. We performed one of them, a premier (also, I think, the only performance of the quartet ever). We have also played the quartet by Yehezkel Braun, a wonderful piece by one of Israel's best composers, and the Rosendorf Quartet by Noam Sheriff, also a beautiful piece. The Rosendorf Quartet is named after a book by Natan Shaham, about a string quartet in the first days of the Jewish State. If you are interested in that kind of thing, I urge you to get the book, which is delightful. Then get the quartet,  You can buy it from the Israel Music Institute.


  1. Yes, the bow can be repaired - quite easily. This has happened to me twice. The first time was not traumatic - it was a very cheap bow. The second time, about ten years ago, I was playing a $7,000 bow. However, they are both in good shape now. As for modern quartets - I would rather read a book on mathematics.

  2. My bow broke in the same way. It was my main bow,though. The repair shop did an excellent job splicing the tip, and it played well for about 7 years after the accident. The bow eventually began to warp, interfering with it's balance and my ability to do certain things. I replaced it and gifted it to a beginning student who had little money. It served me well.

    On the subject of modern composers, I loved playing their works back when I was a professional.

    Great blog, btw. I'm just discovering it.