Sunday, July 01, 2012

Bowing Terminology

It always struck me as odd that music published during the first decade of the 20th century by Carl Fischer and many other publishers would have printed explanations of the up-bow and down-bow signs in their music. I always imagined that anybody playing anything beyond beginning violin music would know these things. Maybe the publishers weren't counting on the symbols always being viable in the future.

The upper left-hand corner of the first page of the Schubert Sonatas that the above picture comes from gives some nice translations that reveal just how colorless the words "up-bow" and "down-bow" actually are. Many of my beginning students get boggled by this terminology, because when making a down-bow stroke on the lowest string, your hand moves upwards.

The German words are confusing for the same reasons.

But look at the French words: Tirez, which translates as to draw or pull, which is what it feels like we are doing when we start a bow stroke at the frog and end at the tip (and on every string). Likewise Poussez means to push, which is what it really feels like we are doing when we begin towards the tip and end at the frog. Best of all, these French terms are verbs, implying that those signs signify some kind of action or motion.

N.B. The copy that I found in the Petrucci Library (and used for the above picture) was published by Carl Fischer in New York in 1906. My paper copy, which was one used by my father when he was a child, and perhaps even used by his father--who knows--was published in New York by G. Schirmer in 1908 (using the same plates, by the way). It doesn't have the German or French translations. Only the English "translations" of the symbols.

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