François Xavier Tourte (1747 - 1835) was a Frenchman who, though trained as a watchmaker, soon changed to making bows for playing classical string instruments such as the violin.
He made a number of significant contributions to the development of the bow, and is considered to be the most important figure in the development of the modern bow.
Development of the modern bow
Tourte began as an apprentice to his bow-maker father, Louis Tourte père (c.1720 - 1780). After his father's death, Tourte, in collaboration with the violin virtuoso G. B. Viotti, made important changes in the form of the bow in the Classical period between 1785 and 1790. They lengthened them slightly, to 74 – 75 centimetres, and used more wood in the tip and a heavier nut.
He has often been called the Stradivari of the bow.
Tourte's bows are made from pernambuco wood, the most usual form of wood used on professional bows today, bent by being exposed to heat. Tourte's bows tended to be heavier than previous models, with more wood at the tip of the bow counterbalanced by a heavier frog (the device connecting the hair to the stick at the end nearest the player's hand).
They generally have a usable hair-length of around 65 cm, and the balance point is 19 cm from the frog. The bows were elegantly fluted through half, or sometimes the whole, of their length. The curve in the wood was created by heating the wood thoroughly and then bending it. Before Tourte, bows had been cut to the desired bend. The final important change credited to Tourte is the screw in the nut to moderate the tension in the hair. This propelling and withdrawing screw is found on virtually all modern violin bows. He is also credited with the invention of the spreader block, which fixes the hair of the bow in a flat ribbon, and so prevents tangling.
At the height of his career, a single Tourte bow fetched 15 Louis d'Or. Tourte destroyed any bow that was not entirely faultless before it left his workshop. He never varnished his bows but only rubbed them with pumice powder and oil. The Tourte pattern was followed by Dominique Peccatte, Nicolas Eury, Nicolas Maire, Francois Lupot, Nicolas Maline, Joseph Henry and Jean Pierre Marie Persois.
- François-Xavier Tourte - Bow Maker by Stewart Pollens and Henryk Kaston with M.E.D. Lang, 2001 (Tourte's background, his working life and bow-making techniques.)
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- Raffin, Jean Francois; Millant, Bernard (2000). L'Archet. Paris: L'Archet Éditions. ISBN 295155690X.
- Dictionnaire Universel del Luthiers - Rene Vannes 1951,1972, 1985 (vol.3)
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- TOURTE LE JEUNE - London 2008 Exhibition (organized by Paul Childs)- Catalogue for the Tourte exhibition, the Royal Academy of Music, November 2008. Hard-bound, 60 pages with illustrations of 35 François Tourte bows and 15 contemporary copies. Published by The Magic Bow Publications
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