Richard Gwilt - Historical Bows


I am a baroque violin player, a teacher (Professor of Baroque Violin at the Hochschule für Musik in Köln), and these days also a bow-maker!

I was born in Scotland, studied in England and the US, subsequently lived & worked many years (1984 - 2006) in the UK, and I now live and work in Germany.

Having learnt ‘normal’ violin as a child in Edinburgh, and studied music in Birmingham (UK) and University of Michigan (US), I spent the first 30 years of my professional life performing on the baroque violin & viola. Touring round the world, recording for radio and TV, making LPs and then CDs - almost all with the small chamber group, London Baroque. And teaching on numerous summer courses, and making editions of 17th & 18th century music. Throughout this entire time, I was constantly on the lookout for the ‘right’, the perfect, violin bow. Overlapping somewhat, I've spent the next 20 years teaching baroque violin and viola at the Hochschule für Musik und Tanz in Köln, in Germany. During this time, I began to look more and more at the underpinning of our “performance practice” venture, which also resulted in my website, Traditions of Baroque Violin Playing, and its sister, the A Timeline History of the Violin Bow . My focus on the bow intensified, as it became clear just how much of an issue an appropriate bow - and corresponding technique - really is.

In my search for the suitable bow for any given repertoire, I have had to question many assumptions which accompanied me through the first part of my career. The idea that one single bow - a long relatively heavy snakewood ‘baroque’ bow with a screw-frog - could be sufficient to cover 150 years of music seems to me now absurd. Back then, I remember how much I was hanging out on a limb, wanting to use a different bow for Purcell & Bach. This questioning was only intensified as I assembled the iconography page of my site. I began to notice that in pretty much ALL paintings of violins, violinists etc in the 17th century - regardless of country - the bows are short - rarely longer than the violin itself, so around two feet, or 61cm.

And rather than try to commission an expensive slew of bows with little idea of where that might lead, I thought I'd try it myself. It helped, of course, that one of my very best friends is Luis Emilio Rodriguez, and a week's holiday spent with him with my two then pre-teenage sons building bows helped these thoughts to germinate.

So there you have it - that's why and how I became a bow-maker. My fascination is with the unusual - there are many bow-makers making lovely bows. I'm exploring, challenging what we think we know, looking for the old!

Richard Gwilt - Tel. +49 (0)2243 911829 - Handy (Mobile) +49 (0)1525 394 1771 - Email: