Violinists with Russian bow hold

February 10, 2016 at 12:51 AM · Hi guys - Needing identifications of violinists that play with Russian bow holds apart from Heifetz, Milstein and Kavakos, any other known artists out there that play with it?


Replies (43)

February 10, 2016 at 01:08 AM · Mischa Elman, Mischa Mischakoff, Toscha Seidel, Josef Hassid, Nate Robinson (who posts on here, and has youtube viedos of his playing), and Vadim Repin.

PS: I also used to it, good for playing close to the bridge :D

February 10, 2016 at 03:19 PM · plus David Oistrakh

February 10, 2016 at 03:27 PM · Oistrakh's bow hold does not look all that "Russian" to me. One thing I have noticed is that violinists often have a completely different bow hold for posed publicity photos than they do while they're actually playing the violin.

February 10, 2016 at 04:01 PM · That's because in the real world of playing the violin the detail of the bow hold changes from second to second according to the demands required of the bow.

February 10, 2016 at 04:52 PM · Oistrakh has a Russian hold, but it's slightly different from, say, Heifetz -- it's the Soviet Russian variant of it, rather than the Auer variant of it. A little more flex in the fingers.

February 10, 2016 at 05:56 PM · Lydia is right.

Hold of Heifetz. me etc is the classic "straight pinky", while Oistrakh and Kogan's is like the FB,except the index contacts at second joint, and the index and pinky will each lift off to play smoothly at the frog and tip of the bow, respectively- this can eb seen in Kogan's videos on Youtube. :)

February 10, 2016 at 06:42 PM · My understanding is that Oistrakh changed his bow hold after watching Grumiaux, and added some FB flavor. I don't have a citation for that, so I may be perpetuating a falsehood.

February 10, 2016 at 07:08 PM · Oistrahk, like Perlman, often has his elbow lower than his hand - very un-Russian?

February 11, 2016 at 02:46 AM · Yes, Adrian! The Soviet hold, via Oistrakh and Kogan, characterized by index floating on the stick at second joint from tip (like Russian), but with a low arm and more "flex" at the tip and frog via lifting the index and pinky fingers off for each extremity of the bow.

Pinky for tip, index for frog. :)

February 11, 2016 at 03:53 PM · If you watch a lot of Oistrakh and look carefully at his bowing, you will see he changed his hand and arm from second to second depending on the sound he wanted out of each 4 to 8 bar passage. When observing a bowing master with this kind of flexibility, the standard definitions don't hold up. Oistrakh bends his thumb, flexes it to get articulation, flexes his fingers, and often has the tip of the pinky touching and controlling the bow - a Russian hold. He also switched to flatter, stiffer, Franco-Belgian style holds - and switched back as the music changed.

February 11, 2016 at 03:56 PM · How about Stern? Would you call his bow hold Russian?

February 11, 2016 at 04:25 PM · Not quite sure what your definition of a Russian hold involves Mike, but I agree when you say, "[w]hen observing a bowing master with this kind of flexibility, the standard definitions don't hold up."

I think all the trouble stems from Flesch. He's the only pedagogue to define these categories of bow holds, calling them German, Franco-Belgian, and Russian. I suppose these terms may have been floating around by the early 20th C, but I think he's done posterity a disservice by getting us to fixate on static holds.

I think further confusion arises from the fact that what Flesch describes as the Russian hold (what I think Mike is thinking of) is actually closer to what most in North America think of as the Franco-Belgian. The classic Russian look we all have in mind is probably Heifetz and Auer (Hungarian-German-French-Viotti; all roads lead back to Viotti,) where the stick makes contact somewhere between the second knuckle and the base knuckle. Flesch describes the contact being at the second joint for the Russian hold. The other feature he includes is pronation, and the resulting contact point from palm-side to thumb-side, the German hold having no pronation, F-B having a little, Russian having the most pronation. But I think what we see is that there is no necessary fixed relation between contact point and pronation, even elbow height (which Joachim, via Moser, clearly insists must adjust to the level of the string.) Some change pronation depending on context; others do not. Some raise the elbow with the up bow, others let it follow, hang behind the hand, regardless of bow hold.

I can't remember if Flesch touches on this, but I think the biggest difference in bowing has to do with how pressure is applied. Some press by rotating counter-clockwise while playing down bow; others 'pull,' (tirer) by allowing the fingers to pivot along the base knuckles (what we think of as flexibility in the fingers, and which Heifetz does more of than say, Milstein.) Some people do one or the other, while others use both, again, quite independently of bow hold.

February 11, 2016 at 07:20 PM · Leave it to Flesch to ruin something good. Scales for instance. :)

February 11, 2016 at 11:40 PM · Everyone is right, but may I politely disagree with "the flatter, stiffer FB hold": I have found it more flexible, on the contrary.

(I supect the the bow hold is about the only thing I have in common with Oistrakh, though... °

February 12, 2016 at 12:10 AM · Except Oistrakh uses a Soviet hold, not Franco-Belgian.

It is this specific hold which can produce a very bright ound, as heard via Kogan. :)

February 12, 2016 at 12:41 AM · I don't think we all agree here... If Oistrakh's hold is Soviet, then so is most of North America's, via Galamian, who most of North America considers to have taught a F-B hold. So much for labels...

I would suggest, to continue to associate bow holds with some National school perpetuates the confusion, rather than helping to explain the action behind different styles of bowing. And besides, I wonder how historical Flesch's labels really are.

February 12, 2016 at 01:36 AM · Hi,

Oistrakh uses a Franco-Belgian hold, but more towards that used by Kreisler and Thibaud (without the hyper-extension or exaggerated separation) between the index and middle-finger, what Flesch truly described as the Franco-Belgian hold. The Russian hold is that of Heifetz, Elman, Zimbalist and others from the Auer school. To some extent, Szeryng would be considered a good example of the Franco-Belgian hold.

What is used and taught in North America at the moment is not a Franco-Belgian hold, but rather something from Dorothy Delay (hyper-extension of the index). Even most of the Galamian students (like Zukerman and Rabin for example) do not use that hyper-extension of the index and are closer to a Franco-Belgian hold than anything that came after.

The thing is that holds are also influenced by body geometry and violin angle. Elman had very short arms and the Russian hold was the only way to reach the tip. In a way, Heifetz is similar because he held the violin very far to the left.

I have personally never found such a thing as a "Soviet hold." Kogan's hold was very unique and even he admitted at one point that he couldn't stand watching himself play because of it.


February 12, 2016 at 01:36 AM · Oops - double-post!

February 12, 2016 at 04:34 AM · Christian: All well and good, but doesn't Oistrakh hold the bow a bit deep (2nd finger joint) to be truly "FB"?

That is why I classify him as Soviet, bec. such a small difference dramatically affects how the bw works in the hand.

Try it! :)

February 12, 2016 at 05:58 AM · Pretty sure it's just below the 2nd joint (scroll down,) toward the 1st. Take a look at a true Belgian, Grumiaux. Oistrakh, whose lineage is Polish and Czech (through Stolyarski,) is very similar. Look at the way they use their upper arms. Very quiet and centred. To be able to do that, you have to supinate and reach with the hand and fingers at the frog. Szeryng (who studied with Thibaud after Flesch) and Thibaud both have very active upper arms, even though Thibaud's hand is dropped like the classic "Russian" look, but which is French through and through, and Szeryng's is extended at the wrist and more square. (He often had quite a separation between 1st and 2nd fingers. Taking into account his larger hands, I think it's a similar strategy to Midori and Sarah Chang.) They both maintain their rotations throughout.

And what is the Auer-Russian lineage? Czech and Austrian and Hungarian, and ulitmately French via Dont via Bohm who studied with Rode. There were the Italians, then "the" Italian, Viotti, who taught the French, who taught everyone else. Of course there was Spohr and Eck and the Mannheim School (Stamitz.) But Spohr's career didn't really take off until he started ripping off Rode's very French style, which was really Viotti's Italian style. The later German school (which was really Viennese) and Franco-Belgians were just trash talking at each other, and I don't think cared very much about how the fingers made contact in bow holds. The earlier influences to the Russian school were through Vieuxtemps (Belgian, student of De Beriot, also Belgian) who founded the St. Petersburg school, and Wieniawski (Polish, studied with Massart at Paris Conservatory) who succeeded him. So the Soviet school (post revolution, after all the Jewish musicians fled to the US) is more Russian, or at least more Ukrainian, than the Russian School. And the American school (Auer, Zimbalist, Gingold, Mischakoff, Brodsky, Galamian, etc.) is really, really Russian, that is, Russian-Jewish, Hungarian-Jewish and Armenian-Russian.

February 12, 2016 at 01:08 PM · Hi,

A.O. - I agree with Jeewon on this one. The original FB hold was quite different than what many people think of today as the FB hold, which is more of an American hold. The index was closer to the second joint, but not in it, which is the major difference between the two. If you look at Thibaud or Kreisler, you can observe this. There are plenty of photos online.

As for Szeryng, I would respectfully disagree with Jeewon. I think that the space used by Szeryng is nowhere near Midori or Sarah Chang, nor motivated by the same reason. Szeryng had fairly large hands and a long index. The index is spaced in order to have the right contact point for an FB hold based on his hand geometry, but it is neither exaggerated or done with other goals, which is what Midori and Sarah Chang do. It may look similar but the concept is different.


February 12, 2016 at 02:44 PM · Whatever the motivation, I think the results are similar. I guess I'm suggesting if Szeryng had the physique of a petite Asian woman, his bow hand and arm would look and function even more like hers. He likes to keep his forearm in line with the back of the hand and so the wrist remains extended; there's a lot of forearm motion which moves with the hand, not ahead of it in a wave like motion, or a folding, pumping motion at the wrist. To take weight off the stick he raises his upper arm more than Goto or Chang (Chang breaks the wrist the most at the frog) and lets the bow and fingers hang more than the women, probably because of his heavier arm. The angle of pronation never changes substantially, and so there is negligible pivot, and the index remains curled over the stick (Chang pivots more than Goto or Szeryng.) If his fingers were skinnier, the spacing would be similar to Goto, though his middle fingers are closer together, and Goto has more of an even spread. But as the women do, I think Szeryng spreads the first finger for leverage, without having to change pronation. It's very easy to keep the index closer to middle finger while keeping the same contact, but you lose leverage, unless you pronate and apply counter-clockwise pressure. Keeping the wrist and base knuckles open allows you to pull through the stroke without changing rotation. It's just what I see. I don't think spreading of the index is detrimental to bowing. Also, I don't see it being taught or used more and more.

There's an interesting paper on American teaching I read a while back. If I remember correctly about half of the teachers interviewed thought Galamian taught a traditional FB bowing style. Several others thought he had combined FB with a Russian style into a sort of hybrid. As far as Flesch's ideas of it are concerned, I think Ginette Neveu has the picture-perfect FB hold. But she was French and studied with Enescu (Romanian who studied with Hellmesberger (Austrian) and Flesch (Hungarian who studied with Grun, who was a Hungarian who studied with Bohm, who was also Hungarian and studied with Rode; later Flesch studied with the Marsick who was Belgian, who studied with Massart, another Belgian, both in Paris. I don't think Flesch thought much of the Belgians...) Grumiaux was a Belgian who studied with Fernand Quinet (Belgian) and Alfred Dubois (Belgian) who was a student of Ysaye (Belgian and student of Desire Hynberg, Belgian and Wieniawski, assistant to Vieuxtemps, Belgian, and later of Vieuxtemps himself.)

February 12, 2016 at 03:33 PM · Jeewon, I agree with your comment about Flesch - " I suppose these terms may have been floating around by the early 20th C, but I think he's done posterity a disservice by getting us to fixate on static holds."

The discussion about bow holds amazes me because many people "fixate on static holds", which is what beginners learn. Most violin discussions aim towards the performances of master soloists. Virtually all of them change their bowing from time to time to get different effects. The bowing discussion should not be about static position. It should be about dynamic movement of different parts of the fingers, hand and wrist. That is where the masters create their magic.

Understand what moves and why, and you get insight into outstanding sound. "Fixate on static holds" and you haven't progressed beyond beginner sound.

February 12, 2016 at 03:59 PM · Absolutely agree with you Mike. Straight from Galamian's Principles:

"In describing how the bow should be held, the basic or neutral grip will be presented first. It is the bow-hand position that should be taught to beginners. However, in actual playing this position of the bow hand is not a fixed or invariable thing, but rather, as will be shown later in detail, it is subject to constant modification as the bow moves from one end to the other and as the player changes his dynamics, bowing styles, and tonal qualities." [Principles of Violin Playing & Teaching, p. 45]

Flesch starts by dissecting the 3 variants and then arguing for the superiority of the Russian hold (well, at least his version of it) treating the German and FB holds as if they were fixed and static. Reading between the lines, I think he was conflicted about his earlier influences, trying to move beyond them.

February 12, 2016 at 04:11 PM · I read somewhere, and I think it may have originated from Galamian or perhaps Gingold, that violinists tend to decrease the extension of the index finger as they get older. In my study of bow holds I found this to be quite true, by comparing (numerous) pictures of players from their younger days with pictures from later in their career. I suspect they just come to realize that it's not necessary. Hopefully no one will be offended, but my observation is that the extreme extension of the index finger is more common (I did NOT say universal) among the famous female soloists such as Anne-Sophie Mutter and Sarah Chang.

For Galamian to say that the bow hold should adjust to the circumstances ... isn't that really kind of obvious? I don't know why he gets feted for such routine observations. Sarah Chang's index finger is more extended than other players' index fingers. On average. Not all the time. According to my admittedly imperfect analysis of pictures that I can find online.

February 12, 2016 at 04:17 PM · Examples Paul?

For Flesch, the static hold determines the bowing style. For Galamian the bowing style determines the dynamic hold. Copernican!

February 12, 2016 at 04:25 PM · Examples of what? If you mean folks who brought their index fingers under control over the course of their career, I'd have to review my notes on that (which is not on this computer) but as I recall one of them was Menuhin.

Carl Flesch was born in 1873. By the time he had the opportunity to see freeze-frame images or movies or even decent short-exposure photographs of violin bowing, all of his ideas and methods were set in stone. Like his bow hold apparently.

February 12, 2016 at 04:55 PM · Yes, of players who fundamentally changed their bow holds. The extended index is never out of control, if that's the impression you have. It exerts control from above, rather than from below the stick. I think you had mentioned Mutter earlier, but neither she nor Menuhin ever used a spread index. Menuhin had a variable hold which was kind of deep, like Flesch's Russian hold, but he didn't wrap the index around the stick, as Flesch recommends. You see it flip from time to time when he pivots.

It seems obvious the earth orbits around the sun, once you know. But before you know, I don't think it's so obvious to suggest the bow hold should adapt, until it's shown. It doesn't come naturally to most people. That's one of it's draw backs, it's a steeper learning curve, and can get a bit fussy. Sometimes simple is best. And I'm pretty sure Galamian got most, if not all, of his ideas from his teacher Mostras and his studies at the Moscow Conservatory. He's just the first to have it written down in English. America is very Soviet school.

February 12, 2016 at 05:34 PM · Hi Jeewon,

Never thought of it in the way you put it, but find it interesting! Will give it thought!


February 12, 2016 at 06:25 PM · One thing's for sure: We can all look at all of the same pictures and see completely different things. But probably half of you will disagree with this also.

February 12, 2016 at 08:45 PM · Hi,

Jeewon, Galamian also studied with Capet and he got some ideas from him as well. His ideas seem sort of like a hybrid of the two schools.


February 12, 2016 at 11:24 PM · Hi Christian, I was aware of that but wonder how much influence Capet really had. Galamian studied with Mostras from 13 to 16 at the Moscow Violin School where, by all accounts, along with Yampolsky and Zeitlin, they developed a highly methodical pedagogy based on new ideas of the psychology of learning and performance and a physiological basis for playing. He stayed in Moscow until he was 19 working at the Bolshoi. He went to Paris and studied with Capet from 19 to 20, acting as his assistant. In Principles he mentions Capet in one short paragraph on the Roule exercise. I think Capet's biggest impact must have been on bow division, since it features prominently in the supplement to his scale method. But Galamian doesn't talk about any of the 'internal opposition of fingers on the bow' stuff that Capet spells out in detail, and other aspects, which were clearly central to Capet's thinking. Overall Galamian's writing is much more pragmatic--he doesn't mention the 3rd finger being the Spiritual guide for instance. It seems much more Soviet school than Capet's French. There are other details too. For straight bowing Capet says the upper arm should remain still moving from mid bow to tip on down bow, whereas Galamian says the upper arm should move forward. I don't know if that's explicitly mentioned in any of the Moscow school writings (of which there are many) since they've not been translated yet. But I do know Mostras used the exercise of sliding the bow hand along the bow, tracing the path of the bow. They also use a rhythmic acceleration on their scales, though not with Galamian's Do-Mi-Re-Do pattern. Principles was published at the height of the cold war. I wonder if he would've paid homage to his roots if the political climate was less hostile. Anyways, it'd be interesting to read Mostras and Yampolsky if they're ever translated.

February 13, 2016 at 01:30 AM · The whole problem these days is that people don't know the historical origins of these bow-holds. Glommian got his notion of the Russian bow-hold from Capet with some influences from Thibaud, who was directly influenced by Viotti. Everyone knows Viotti studied with Kruetzer who was influenced strongly by Meister Eckhart, and, in turn, by Anselm of Canterbury, Hammurabi, and the Pliny the Elder. So if you haven't read Pliny's "Natural History" then I don't see how you can have any clue what a Franco-Belgian bow hold is.

February 13, 2016 at 02:42 AM · Hi Jeewon,

Interesting points. Truth is that it is hard to know much of anything. In a video though, Perlman mention the ring concept between the middle-finger and thumb, which he seems to have gotten from Galamian, and that is clearly from Capet. Galamian seems to have been an independant thinker I think, who fused together some elements from his Russian background with some Franco-Belgian ideas. Maybe an example of Violin Fusion Art, lol!


February 13, 2016 at 03:33 AM · Galamian was once asked about his bowing approach. He replied "Part Russian, part Franco-Belgian - and a lot of ME!"

February 13, 2016 at 03:45 AM · Yeah, I can believe Mr. G. was as independent as they come. The only wrinkle is that Capet is as French as they come.

Here's an interesting tribute to Capet.

It emphasizes Capet's commitment to a classical aesthetic, which mirrors the French school's ideals, and it's critique of the Franco-Belgians' penchant for excessive romanticism.

February 13, 2016 at 04:08 AM · I have Capet's book on The Superior Method for the Bow. It's kind of tough to get through.

February 13, 2016 at 05:13 AM · One advantage that more modern pedagogues have compared to Capet and Flesch is that the modern folks can look at movies in slow motion and other images from high-speed photographic techniques. Both Flesch and Capet were born in the 1870s and were fully mature musicians by the time motion pictures were even popular. Photographs were something you had to hold very still for. Just as you can learn how a horse actually gallops you can learn how so-and-so actually holds his bow, by analyzing superior images and motion pictures. Flesch and Capet -- their ability to see moving objects was no better than yours or mine. Their intuition and experience may certainly have been quite extraordinary, though, I'm not discounting that.

February 13, 2016 at 07:24 AM · wowwwww :) guys :) I use a russian bow hold, I learned it from my teacher Zoltan Lantos. We play jazz, but the thing is, I read some mentions about Auer, and variants, well, for my anatomy, the elbow is slightly lower than that is written in the Great Book (Flesch).. :) hope that helps. :) cheeers ;-)

February 14, 2016 at 03:24 PM · I think it's important to keep in mind that violinistic discovery was nearly exhausted by the beginning of the 19th century (Gavinies' Matinées were published in 1794 near the end of his life, when Paganini was just 12, which means he was using such a skill set in the 50's and 60's, at the height of his career--the 1750's!--half a century before the invention of the chin rest) and peaked by around 1810. Technique and technology only serve to democratize violin playing. They allow the mere mortals to approach. So, respect.

"...ability to see moving objects was no better than yours or mine." More than what you see, it's what you understand in what you see that's important. So no examples, Paul?

February 15, 2016 at 01:23 AM · No. No examples. I already explained why.

February 15, 2016 at 02:36 AM · But surely we can reach some kind of consensus on at least some of your numerous examples from your vast study of bow holds.

From my experience I don't need freeze frame to see what a player is doing. I can infer thumb position and placement, the general depth and attitude of the hand by seeing the whole bow arm in action, and the coordination between parts, and from listening to the sound produced. So yeah, if that's what I can sense, those master teachers' experience and intuition count for everything, including their instinct to know when it doesn't matter.

February 26, 2016 at 10:38 PM · Oistrakh had nothing that resembles a "Russian" bow hold, or approach. Nor Kogan. Nor Sitkovetsky. The angle of the hand is important to consider in this regard, not merely the contact point. I see many violinists in orchestra with a second knuckle approach, but a more straightforward bow hold. Menuhin took this approach (very naturally, as he had little exposure to Heifetz as a child-- he was a prodigy). To imagine a Russian bow hold, consider using mainly the index and middle fingers, as Heifetz promoted; the ring finger will often fall on the very top of the stick if not behind it (when playing on the G), and the pinkie will often be in the air. The thumb will fall just to the left of the middle finger if looked at from the front of the bow. Flex in the thumb is ok, as is bend, whatever is most comfortable. The sound will probably be terrible because the grip isn't the cause, but more so the effect-- hold the violin high, angle your fiddle to the left, don't use a shoulder rest, enable your whole arm to come through the stroke, and while doing this imagine that your arm is following the lead of your wrist.

Pretty much impossible, which is why violinists who use "Russian grips" don't look like Elman or Heifetz, and never compare in tone. It's superficial, to say the least.

A soviet approach placed the arm behind the body but not as much "over" in the direct Russian style; this offered a flexible counterpoint in the elbow to truly draw out power when needed, and to also paint a more fluid melodic line (which is to say nothing about the great Russian masters who eclipsed all, in my opinion).

In the video era the examples of the Russian bowing hold and technique are visible in videos of Heifetz, Seidel, Milstein, and Elman. Flesch, Temianka, Hassid, and many others appear in pictures to use a more Russian approach, and their sound-- deep and articulate with punctuated spiccato - at the very least doesn't make this idea difficult to entertain. Zimbalist videos are a better example of the fiddle hold-- high, refined, allowing full use of the arm, which was a point of emphasis in the St Petersburg conservatory. Due to their age it's difficult to understand if his bow hold was that classic angular image.

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