Home Lifestyle Fortissimo | An encounter with bow maker Edwin Clément and his unusual relationship with Pernambuco

Fortissimo | An encounter with bow maker Edwin Clément and his unusual relationship with Pernambuco

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Every month, Forbes France brings you a personality from the world of music. of those who show talent. We invite you to meet Edwin Clément, the maker of bows and the best craftsman in France. He tells us about his great job… It all starts with Pernambuco! his interview Florence Petros

It happens that ill-conceived political decisions brutally interrupt, in the name of short-term interests and image politics, basic ancient traditions. It also happens that people stand up and resist these decisions until they succeed. Such is the case of Edwin Clement, Milleur Ouvrier de France, one of the world’s specialists in arcs, who knew how to gather around himself the forces necessary to block political madness. His energy, that which he applies to the unique pieces he makes, derives from his religion of beauty, he derives from his conviction of the need for some form of extension of the sacred to the making of musical instruments, most importantly music.

Can you describe in a few words your job as a bow maker?

They are part of a large family of machining trades whose expertise often goes back centuries. The modern bow industry itself was born in the mid-18’sy Century freed himself from the Lutheran workshops where Baroque and Classical arches were made.

Bowed string music evolved a lot during this period and the profession of bow maker accompanied this transformation. This was created at the crossroads of many other artistic crafts, such as cabinetmaking, goldsmithing, watchmaking, and mother-of-pearl work.

It should be noted that the abolition of corporations during the revolutionary period greatly contributed to this: for example, under the old regime it was forbidden for a goldsmith to work in wood, and a cabinetmaker, by contrast, had to work in precious metals.

Learning to trade is long, sometimes tedious because you have to master the shaping of many materials, the main one being pernambuco wood, which in many respects symbolizes our profession. The cane itself is made from one piece with this wood that originates from the Atlantic Forest in Brazil.

Edwin Clement: I like to use the image of wine, without vines no wine, without pernambuco no orchestra

Is it the only wood used to make the modern bow?

In any case, with its phenomenal properties of resistance, density and above all its sound, it is wood that has made it possible to develop the game of musicians for more than 250 years. It has an incredible variety of characteristics that contribute, paradoxically, to the unification of the violin and cello from the beginning of the nineteenth century.y horn, to create an important variety and bow adaptation for each musician. With the right hand extended this is the bow in which musicians express their movement of notes.

In addition, the history of this wood is so rich that it somehow tells the story of our civilization for 500 years.

Are you talking about the sound of pernambuco wood?

EC: You should know that the sound of bowed stringed instruments comes for an important part almost fundamentally, from the bow and therefore from the wood of the pernambuco. I’ll leave it to the scientists to calculate the percentage. I like to use the image of wine, without vines there is no wine, without Pernambuco there is no orchestra.

If I understand your explanations correctly, the bow maker makes a bow to give his voice to the musician?

Somehow. It is above all, for me, a profession of encounter. I custom work at the request of a musician or band like a quartet to enhance their musical sensibility through their physiology (everyone’s body is different!) in harmony with their instrument, which is also unique. I create a link, which is the third side of the triangle. One can also imagine a circle made up of the right arm, bow, string, instrument, and body of the player.

I’ve been very active lately about the Pernambuco problem, which was at the center of the music news last fall. Can you tell us what the dangers of this news are?

You should know that the use of Pernambuco wood has been regulated by the Washington Convention on Trade in Endangered Species since 2007. Brazil requested the adoption of a more stringent amendment that would have restricted its use in such a way as to prevent its long-term use and thus irreparably damaged the future of our profession and the quality of music transmission .

You say it is classified as an endangered species, what danger does it pose to its existence?

The main danger is the disappearance of their natural range. Brazil developed its economy on its coastal strip and the Atlantic forests were cut down and replaced by intensive farming of soybeans, eucalyptus, cattle, etc., which is more profitable in the short term. This mode is found in many places around the world.

Wasn’t the profession committed to protecting its resources?

The profession assessed this situation more than 20 years ago. Through the IPCI program (International Pernambuco Conservation Initiative) of which I am a founding member, we have established procedures with Brazilian public and private partners aimed at studying, conserving and replanting the plants of Pernambuco, more than 300,000 trees. What was at stake was that the recent request of the Government of Brazil simply forbade the use of replanted wood in the future, ignoring the preservation, on the contrary, made possible by the work carried out by the IPCI.

What lesson do you draw from this confrontation, which took place in November at COP19, which brought together in Panama all the signatories to CITES?


Man shamelessly destroys and believes that progress so defined can replace everything. The bow industry still has an economic existence today because the use of its production is primarily concerned with an audience of professional musicians who unanimously consider it irreplaceable. Many other trades are not so fortunate. We are at the heart of what I call the civilization of the hand and its intelligence. Much of the emotion the viewer receives from the arts, whether pictorial, musical or architectural, comes from the hand directed by an artistic spirit. Our time puts fine art in a museum. Personally, I have the tremendous privilege of living it up on a daily basis: sculpting to generate resonance. This resonance is transmitted by the body with the most beautiful materials that nature has given us. I use my planes like a dancer uses his body. I remember the photograph of Nureyev’s foot taken at the end of his career, a damaged, calloused, deformed foot marked by a lifetime’s work to give us his best.

What are your last Art favourites


In the field of musical interpretation, I have a great admiration for the violinist Augustin Hadelich. Its musicality, sound and elegant virtuosity give it a freshness and depth reminiscent of the fragrance of the great violinists of the twentieth century. Perhaps because the resonance of his violin was not dampened by the prosthetic shoulder rest which has greatly changed the playing of instrumentalists since the 1980s. In the field of literature, I cannot help but recommend, for those who love the great spaces preserved in our country, to read the “Canticle of the Angels” by François Casingina Trevedi. A Benedictine monk, Walker, evokes with extraordinary poetic pen his cross of Cesalier baptizing the Infinistère, where heaven meets earth in the silence of the mighty Auvergne winds or … vice versa.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Interview by Florence Petros

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