Spiccato® was the first ever concert carbon-fiber bow.
Benoît Rolland’s initial concept in the 1980s was deceptively simple: create a high-quality bow in composite materials that would incorporate an inner tension mechanism. It required a masterful understanding of historical bows and the ability to replicate them, to overcome one major difficulty: how to transfer the parameters of these fine bows from the ancestral method of bow making, a subtractive process akin to sculpture, to the new method which was necessarily an additive process with fibers laid into liquid resin. Spiccato® had to be as good as the best traditional bows in playability, sound, weight, and balance, while preserving the quality of classical aesthetics. This marriage of elegance and technology is the superb fulfillment of Rolland’s fifteen-year pursuit.
The initial choice of composite fibers came from Benoît’s lifelong passion for racing sailboats, and his understanding of their structures and riggings. He was already familiar with the properties and behavior of materials such as carbon fibers, glass fibers, Aramid fibers (such as Kevlar®), epoxy and polyester resins, spectra fiber, and nylons. He tested both the resistance and musical potential of these many materials, and carbon-based fibers emerged as the clear choice for a high-tech, manufactured bow.
Thus followed a period of several years, during which Benoît applied himself to an intensive program of education and research, reading, experimenting, and corresponding with physicists. Most of the research, design, and testing for Spiccato® was supported by Mr. Rolland and his company personally, with additional funding from grants, awards, and investors. Eventually, he succeeded in perfecting the formulation of the composite to meet his specifications: playability, bowing stability, sound, but also aesthetics with some likeness to Rolland’s classical line of bows.
Designing the inner adjustment mechanism was in itself a challenging process that required a great deal of materials testing. The camber of all traditional wood bows is set once by the maker, and becomes a defining characteristic of the bow. By contrast, Benoît Rolland’s design incorporated a patented camber adjustment mechanism, nestled in the bow’s slim hollow core, which allowed the bow to be transformed into four or five different profiles. This enabled the musician to modify the camber and playability of the bow at will. The composite model eventually sustained the stress of the tension mechanism. The unique combination of custom composite materials, physical design, and patented tension mechanism culminated in a bow that remains stable over time and will never be out of shape; a bow that is impervious to shifts in humidity and temperature.
Spiccato was registered as a trade mark in 1992 in France. By 1993, the testing years had allowed for the production of 500 bows that soon found their way into the hands of orchestra musicians throughout the world. Rolland designed and made the molds, and refinished and adjusted each bow himself, making about 1,500 Spiccato® bows in his French manufacture from 1992 to 1999.
Benoît Rolland began his bow making journey in 1971, when he joined the school of Mirecourt to apprentice with Bernard Ouchard. He entered the field with a background of music. Studying piano and violin since early childhood, he had obtained two degrees in violin performance and music theory and would continue to place music at the center of his work. After four-year apprenticeship, Benoît returned to Paris and opened his own studio in 1976. He soon became the youngest person ever to be nominated Meilleur Ouvrier de France (Best Artist of France) at 25, in 1979, and received the title Maitre Archetier d’Art (Master of the Art of Bow Making) in 1983.
But Benoît’s mind was occupied with the future of bow making. By the early 1980s, concerns were rising over the dwindling supplies of pernambuco wood, and the environmental impact of deforestation for bow making. At the same time, famous bows from makers such as Peccatte and Tourte were slowly disappearing, damaged by cramped performing spaces, outdoor conditions, or simply by accident. Musicians had no alternative to using their priceless bows in these increasingly hazardous playing conditions. The profession of bow making was not attractive to young people. The oral tradition was falling into oblivion with the last Masters passing away, and the rarity of the finest bows set speculation ablaze. Musicians who could not afford good tools were increasingly at a disadvantage. Yet, no high quality bow made from affordable and replicable synthetic materials existed, as musicians and bowmakers alike strongly favored traditional concepts.
The philosophy of the School of French bow making requires a master to go beyond perfecting the ancestral tradition of his art to pioneer new ideas and expand the bow making knowledge. In the 19th-century for example, J.-B. Vuillaume patented an iron bow using the latest techniques of his time. With this in mind, motivated by an ecological goal as well as a desire to ensure global accessibility to fine bows, Benoît Rolland retreated to the Isle of Brehat, a secluded environment off the shores of Brittany where he could focus on his artistic evolution. During this six-year period, Spiccato was born. The project was twice-groundbreaking: creating the very first concert-quality synthetic bows, while also inventing a revolutionary internal mechanism to adjust the camber of the bow at will.
While on the Isle of Brehat, Benoît interacted regularly with the sailing community, and gained insight to the cutting-edge technologies in composite materials used in raceboats, especially as they reacted under stress at sea. Simultaneously, Benoît continued to make fine wood bows for musicians. Traveling once a month to Paris, he maintained regular conversations with top soloists to gain a better understanding of the musical characteristics of excellent bows. He began approaching bow making from a scientific standpoint to run systematical analyses of the comportment and fundamental structure of the bow.
He dove into research, connecting with European researchers and self-teaching science and technology. He began the process with designing and formulating the bow, creating the initial mold by hand, then moving into extensive prototyping. Throughout the journey, Benoît worked extensively with a team of engineers, learning to translate his own musical language into technical terminology.
But soon Spiccato® gained international recognition and support from leading musicians. In 1991 and 1992, he received research and development grants for the project (Research grants from the French National Agency for Research Value & Advancement, innovative use of advanced materials), and by 1994, Spiccato bows were awarded the First International Prize Musicora in Paris. Rolland next received the First Prize from the Patrimonialis Foundation in Paris, 1996. Benoît proceeded to travel the world in order to introduce his concept to the music community. He visited Japan, North America, and most of Europe, living out of a single suitcase for weeks on end. The bows were recognized again in 2004 at a Musicora Anniversary, and Benoît Rolland was part of the International Symposium of Physics of the Music, in Washington DC, 2005. At the end of this exhausting uphill journey, Benoît’s bows were in the hands of musicians all over the globe. The business of synthetic bowmaking had started, and other ventures would follow in his footsteps in the following decades.
He is now working on the next generation of Spiccato bows, incorporating 21st century technological advancements which allow for better control over musical vibrations. Though synthetic bows are now widely available, they are not yet found onstage at the highest level of solo performance. Benoît Rolland’s goal is to bridge the gap, while broadening all musicians’ accessibility to very fine bows regardless of means.
Still, the 1,500 original Spiccato bows made in Benoît’s French manufacture are played by musicians around the world today, and valued as collection pieces. The bows that Jean-Luc Ponty called “revolutionary” in the 80s are still the bows for the 21st century.
In 2006, the trademark Spiccato® was registered in the Principal Register of the United States. Any bow marked differently, even if it presents the word “Spiccato”, was not made by Benoît Rolland and he therefore does not endorse it. Bows labeled ‘Premiere’ or other names, were not made by Benoît Rolland.
On original bows, “B. Rolland Paris” is engraved on one side of the handle (front, above the frog) and the mark
“Spiccato” is engraved on the opposite side. Each Spiccato® bow also bears a specific serial number. The original Spiccato® line exists in 3 categories, individually identified as follows:
Engraved with 1 arabesque, following the word Spiccato: Spiccato ~
This model has a firm stick
Engraved with 2 arabesques, placed on both sides of the word Spiccato: ~Spiccato~
This model has a flexible stick
Engraved with a hyphen, following the word Spiccato: Spiccato—
This model has a very firm stick
An American company briefly took over the Spiccato® manufacture, but Benoît Rolland terminated the collaboration in 2005. No bow is currently authorized to be manufactured as Spiccato® or as a likeness of it.
From 1993–1999, Spiccato® gained increasing popularity; many musicians corresponded with Benoît and encouraged the quest. It was enthusiastically endorsed by leading string players such as Sir Menuhin, Joseph Suk, Jaime Laredo, Heinrich Schiff, Glenn Dikterow, and Christian Tetzlaff. Benoît also made a special model for his friend Jean-Luc Ponty.
Lord Yehudi Menuhin: “A gift for the violinists”
Ivry Gitlis: “It is a great pleasure for me to play the Spiccato® Bow conceived by master bow maker Benoît Rolland. It has elegance, playability, sticks to the string; moreover, the adjustment system in the stick adapts the bow to both the classical repertoire and contemporary music. I highly recommend this bow to violinists, as a back up bow as well as a primary one: especially on tours when variations in temperature and humidity will be a worry anymore, for this bow remains unaffected by it. Congratulations to Benoît Rolland for a major innovation and a perfect realization.”
Jean-Luc Ponty: “Bravo Benoît for inventing the 21st century bow, my favorite!”
Jaime Laredo: “Spiccato® violin bow is really remarkable. I am glad to own one and to play it often! I added to my collection a truly outstanding bow.”
Pierre Amoyal: “Spiccato® is a convincing alternative to the best traditional bows. Its innovative adjustment key provides every violinist a perfect tool for his work.”
Christian Tetzlaff: “Hard to break, easy to play…. I highly recommend this bow.”
Heinrich Schiff: “Not a lot of wood in it, but a lot of music!”
Jean-Pierre Wallez: “ On the eve of the third millennium, ancient workmanship serving violinists of tomorrow.”
Gerard Poulet: “Flexibility and response provide for sound projection. Carbon fiber bows were yet lacking a velvet-like quality. Spiccato® now brings together all three indispensable qualities.”
And the story continues….
By Heather Kurzbauer
Strad Magazine, October 1997
Violin Bows Go High-Tech
by Ellen Pfiefer
The Wall Street Journal, 13 November 2002
Patent Attorneys Give Back to Local Entrepreneurs and Artists
by Quincy Kayton
The Boston Patent Law Association (BPLA) Newsletter, Volume 48, Issue 3, Summer 2017.
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