Francois Xavier Tourte (1748-1835) was the singular genius that brought us the “modern bow”. Born into a family of bow makers in Paris, Tourte’s early training was actually in clock making. Unable to make a sufficient income as a clock maker he returned to his family’s workshop sometime around 1774. By this time his father had passed away and he worked in collaboration with his brother Nicholas Leonard. During this period Francois experimented with many types of wood eventually settling on pernambuco around 1780. In 1782 the violinist Viotti arrived in Paris. Tourte and Viotti began dialogue and experimentation with innovations for the bow. Through their collaboration the height of the head and frog as well as the length of the bow were determined, the ferrule was added to the frog, and the stick was given a concave camber. Sometime during this era the ideal weights for the violin, viola, and cello bows were determined as well. Contemporary bow makers continue to employ Tourte’s innovations nearly two hundred years later!
Francois Tourte was surely a man of great sensitivity, perception, and ability to communicate. Not only did he arrive at the functional model for the modern bow, he also laid the stylistic foundation for bow makers which continues to this day. His career spanned more than sixty years, and he crafted bows at his bench until the end of his life at age 87.