Thursday, October 27, 2011


It was November of 1983 in Paris and a small man of perhaps seventy sat bundled in trenchcoat and scarf on the Metro line Port de Clignancourt. Held securely in his hand like a sheaf of arrows, were a dozen violin bows, each in a wrinkled brown paper sleeve, the bundle secured with rubber bands. Arriving at Metro Simplon he came out into the drizzle of rue Joseph Dijon and at no. 9 he climbed the six flights of stairs to my attic workshop. After he had caught his breath he started removing the envelopes and laying bows out on the bench; ten Eugene Sartory violin bows in perfect condition. One for every five years of Sartory's working life starting in 1895 and ending in 1940. We talked of his visits to Sartory's shop as a teen-ager, Sartory's different bow stamps, Sartory's affiliation with Emile Germain, and of Jules Fetique, Gillet and others who worked for him. We traced the maker's development over the years seen in those ten bows, the long nosed heads of 1895 and the lovely heads of 1905 morphing into the wide and heavy heads of 1930. After discussing some repairs to be done on a Pajeot, he went on his way leaving me the bows for two weeks to study. I had asked him some questions on Sartory's early work some weeks earlier and this was his answer.

Stephane Thomachot and Jean Trible

Jean Trible, or 'Monsieur Trible' as we knew him, a Parisian bow collector and retired violinist in the national symphony, supported and inspired several generations of bow makers. It was Trible who left an incredible Persois at Stephane Thomachot's shop nearby on the Rue de Clignancourt. This bow completely changed our perception of how a frog could be shaped and soon I had radically changed my style on the inspiration of that one bow. And I was not the only one. Then there was his Tourte, 'le chat' with the clear marks of a cat's incisors on each side of the head! Monsieur Trible would show us a bow and get an impish look on his face; it was sure to be a fiendishly obscure maker to identify. But for him, bow making was an ongoing tradition and he commissioned a bow from each of us in the younger generation just as he had from Sartory, Lamy fils, Ouchard, Richaume, Millant and others. He was not without his quirks. He confided that since he hadn't the skills to work on his bows and yet wanting to be involved in their care, he would sit in the evenings and polish the tips of his bow's screws with a bit of emery paper. But his insistence on carrying a sizeable fortune in bows on the Metro without a case, often a number of Peccattes or Tourtes, was probably reasonable. The 18th arrondisement was relatively rough and a nice case might have been tempting to some.

I last saw Jean Trible in 2003 when Stephane Thomachot, Noel Burke and I had lunch with him. He was living in Normandy and with his health failing rarely made the trip to Paris. Two years later he had passed away, the end of an incredible link to the past. Not long ago we had a bow maker's session with Bernard Millant to hear his recollections of his early days in the trade and his apprenticeships in Mirecourt, where he both refined his violinmaking and also learned bow making with the Morizot family. He talked about the difficulties of starting his own violin shop in Paris across the street from his father and uncle, Max and Roger Millant. In those hard economic times shortly after the second world war, Millant was 23 years old and wondering where his direction lay when completely by chance Jean Trible stepped into his shop. Although I knew that the two were friends I was moved to learn that Trible had been a catalyst for Millant's passion for bows as well.

Jean Trible with Noel Burke

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