Bows without arrows …

I have to address, once again, something that I find quite maddening: the question of underhand and overhand double bass bows in baroque music.

Actually, this shouldn’t even be a question.

By now – and I have talked about this extensively – any bass player who takes early music and authenticity seriously must know that during the baroque era, the classical era, and even part of the romantic era, underhand double bass bows were the only trick in town. Overhand or “French” bows did not exist, as far as I have been able to tell, before the 1840s at the very earliest.

That’s not stopping bow makers from hawking so-called “baroque” overhand bass bows, and it’s not stopping overhand bass players from buying these completely fraudulent bows, using them, and pretending that they are doing something “authentic.”

I’ll just put this out there again: you are doing nothing authentic when you play using a bow model that did not exist at the time the music was written.


Play Berlioz overhand, not Bach.


But wait, there’s more, and it gets worse.


There are conservatories, universities, and music schools out there with early music departments, and lots of these early music departments in these schools of supposedly higher learning have double bass teachers that accept students that play overhand.

Into programs that supposedly teach “historically informed performance,” no less.

These teachers, as far as I can tell, do absolutely nothing to instruct the aforementioned students on matters of authenticity and proper use of the bass bow – instead, they are letting their students get away with fraud. There’s really no other word for it.
If you really want to be authentic, you can’t play Bach’s b-minor Mass, Händel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Per questa bella mano, or Beethoven’s 9th Symphony using an overhand bass bow. It’s really quite simple: overhand bass bows did not exist when those works were written.

Why is this so hard to understand?

Again: you cannot play any music before at least 1840 using an overhand bass bow and claim to be “authentic.” If you do, you’re nothing more than a quack.

These anachronistic bows wouldn’t be welcome at an archery range. There’s no reason they should be tolerated in any historically informed performance environment, either, and it’s infuriating that this scam continues to fester.

Enough is enough.

PS: While we’re at it, let’s be clear about one other important thing.  Just because a bass bow is an underhand bow, that on its own doesn’t make it appropriate for early music use. For example, Dragonetti bows also have absolutely no place in Bach, Händel, or Mozart, either. So please, stop using them!



Written and added on January 19, 2018
Updated on May 12, 2018

2 thoughts to “Bows without arrows …”

    1. Hi, and thank you for commenting. There are several things to look at here. First, is the dating exact? I’ve seen examples of bows being misdated in Vienna and Berlin, so you never know … Second, is this really a Dragonetti bow? The tip would lead me to believe it is Italian, but the shape to me is a bit different than many Dragonetti bows I have seen – this one has the tip end much higher than the frog end – and of course if it really is from 1700 it would be from before Dragonetti’s lifetime, so at best it would be “pre-Dragonetti,” I guess. I’m not saying the Nürnberg museum is necessarily wrong about this bow, but there are still questions about it that have not been sufficiently answered, in my opinion. As for playing Bach with it, the question would also have to be whether such an Italian bow was even known in Leipzig during Bach’s life. So many questions, not enough answers!
      In any case, we seem to agree on one thing: overhand is not an option. I wish more people had the same opinion, instead of basically saying, “Who cares?” … and again, thank you for commenting.

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