François-Nicolas Voirin: The second Tourte

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The bows of François-Nicolas Voirin had more influence than those of any other bow maker after F.X. Tourte. In the first of two articles, Matt Wehling explores Voirin’s life and career, and examines why his bows were so successful with players

The reviews are in. ‘If ever there was a secret in the making of the stick, this is it,’ wrote long-time English bow maker William Retford. ‘The head, which is light and pleasing to look at, is slightly rounded and terminates in a point which can only be described as perfect,’ wrote Étienne Vatelot in his seminal bow book Les Archets Français  (as exemplified by the bow head above). When you can get an octogenarian Englishman and an erudite Frenchman to agree on something, you know it’s worth looking into.

Born in the small town of Mirecourt on 1 October 1833, François-Nicolas Voirin might have spent his entire life there, working in a violin or bow making workshop as so many of his playmates no doubt ended up doing. But early training, extremely talented hands, family connections and a quietly ambitious nature combined to make a man who would modernise the bow to fit the ever-changing needs of 19th-century musicians.

The second oldest of four boys (all of whom went into the violin trade, the youngest two both conveniently having the first name of Joseph), it is thought that by the age of twelve François-Nicolas was apprenticed to Jean Simon. This is not Pierre Simon, the great maker of many fine bows who worked for Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume and then on his own for many years, but the Mirecourt journeyman whose bows were possibly signed ‘Simon FR’. Voirin’s brother Joseph, younger by three years, probably learnt with this master as well…

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