Violins and French Polish

Cupboard after French Polish.

Cupboard after French Polish.

A good violin player knows his/her instrument better than he does his or her toothbrush. So does the French polisher. It seems a ridiculous statement, but let’s examine it. Of course, the latter does not necessarily play a musical instrument but applies art just the same as the former. There are more details than just intimate knowledge of their toothbrushes that are similar.

The violin produces sound by vibrations caused by the bow made of horsehair striking or moving across strings suspended above a wooden soundbox. We all know that. However, the sound produced by horsehair strung across the bow needs a certain ingredient called ‘rosin’. This gives a certain resistance when striking across the strings of the instrument. You would be hard pushed to get a sound out without first having ‘rosined’ the bow’s hairs. Note the verb ‘to rosin’! Rosin is a solid substance mainly obtained from the resin of pine trees. I am fairly sure that a musician, especially a good one, knows how to direct his wishes onto the instrument just as much as being obedient to the instrument after sound has been produced. As always, a give and take in the kitchen of any creative act.

It seems odd that despite the violin being such a great and popular instrument, most of the great 19th and 20th composers have written just one violin concerto for this instrument. e.g, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, Chaikovski, Dvorak, Elgar, Sibelius, Bartok. ( From Wiki)

Personally, I think Sibelius violin concerto the greatest piece of music ever written. I know it is a bit heavy and like most of his work, steeped in all things Finnish. You can indeed see the frozen sixty thousand lakes skirted by birch and spruce laden with snow. The melancholic and endless winter nights, but also the warm springs and loganberry filled summers, the simple and all artful that is Finland.

Here it is:

Let’s now go to the French Polisher and his art. I rattled on of resin for the bows of violins and other similar instruments. The French Polisher also uses a kind or resin called shellac. It also comes from trees but is actually produced by a beetle which deposits its excrement onto trees. Typically it is only the female beetle that does this. I don’t know why, perhaps it is supposed to lure the male. I would not be surprised seeing how many females stop at nothing to get a mate, even if it means the poor old male gets stuck on the resin and cark it. Anyway, this resin deposited on trees by the female lac bug in India, Thailand and China produces the major ingredient for shellac. Shellac when mixed with spirits is mainly used for French Polishes and food glazes.

Like a good violin player giving direction and responding to the instrument so does the French polisher direct and respond to his pad soaked in shellac. The shellac gives it the sheen but applying it makes for a certain drag or resistance like the rosin on the violin’s bow. It is an art of getting a ‘feel’ of just enough pressure on the timber surface, enough drag to leave behind the desired honey coloured sheen. Not enough or too much pressure and it fails to glorify. Applied too fast or too slow and it will not happen either, at best giving a mediocre result. It does need a bit more than experience to obtain a feel for this form of art. I suppose it is like that with all things creative.

A feeling and expressing it, giving it form.

I am not sure about the reference to toothbrushes. I am no Violin player, but can do a bit of French Polish.

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23 Responses to “Violins and French Polish”

  1. petspeopleandlife Says:

    That’s a whole lotta violin going on. Great source of violin facts. Very enjoyable. Over here in the boon docks the violin is called the fiddle. And sometimes country folks use the expression, “stop fiddling around.” That means that the fiddling around person needs to get a move on. (Hurry up, that is).

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      I bought a violin from Aldi some years ago. I could not get a sound out of it. Worse, I was unable to even apply the rosin to the bow. Everything seems to have a skill attached.
      A friend who could play the violin applied the rosin to the bow, tuned the violin, and was playing within minutes.
      I gave it away to a friend. It was actually not a bad instrument. (made in China)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yvonne Says:

    You never fail to surprise me with the topics that come up on your blog, Gerard.


  3. Andrew Says:

    Hmmmm. I’d vote for Mendelssohn above Sibelius but what do I know? Elgar’s cello concerto is probably better than both and you must need a lot of polish to keep your cello well buffed.


  4. gerard oosterman Says:

    I noticed a lot of Sibelius being played lately. I lived in Finland for a while and am a great admirer of all thing Finnish including Sibelius’ music. Oddly enough he never wrote anymore music for the last thirty years of his life.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. la_lasciata Says:

    “Chaikovsky” ????
    I can usually be sure of the whimsy of your posts, Gerard, and this one is no exception ! [grin]

    Liked by 1 person

  6. elizabeth2560 Says:

    I LOVE the look of that cupboard.


  7. hilarycustancegreen Says:

    Very skilled, Gerard. When I was doing ballet training we would have a little patch of rosin in the corner of the room and we’d go and scuffle in it every now and again to give our shoes the right kind of slip and grip.


  8. lilith Says:

    Loved this blog, and strange-dark-Finnish-music link, thank you


  9. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    I had forgotten about French polishing. Or even paste waxing. And what a shame Pledge has brought into our lives. Too easy. There was a day when the less time I had, the more time I seemed to take on the care and maintenance of furniture and myself. Mascara, eyeliner and shadow, salon care, etc. and french polish and wax. Unfortunately, 86 year old bodies and furniture probably need a renovation. On the other hand, does it really matter in the larger scheme of things? This is a great and sunny day and we am off to enjoy it.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    I always wanted to play the violin.


  11. Silver in the Barn Says:

    I so appreciate these connections you draw, Gerard. There is nobility in all work. I’m listening to the Sibelius right now and thank you for the introduction.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. chris hunter Says:

    In the trade, certainly English antiquity, the furniture surface is known as colour, or patina. Patina is acquired through age, that dull glow so much admired by those in the know. Your cupboard is now set up for its new life – reacquiring its patina. But hey, I’m not being overly critical of the Memphis look, call it an aberration of history, but by jingo Gerard, that is a great polishing job, well done!


  13. roughseasinthemed Says:

    Can’t remember which violin concertos are in my collection. Partner does the odd bit of FP from time to time. Came up in his decorating training.

    I had some furniture (oak) hand made, and insisted on a straight wax finish, no stain, no varnish, nada. It looks good.


  14. Patti Kuche Says:

    Well done on the french polishing Gerard, good to see you have developed a steady rhythm with getting that finish! Thank you for the soothing Sibelius!


  15. bkpyett Says:

    What an admirable post. French polishing is something I greatly admire, and you obviously have the ability and determination. Your cupboard as you call it looks terrific! Love your reference to Sibelius, a much loved musician! Thanks too for your follow Gerard. I’ve been following your comments on M-R’s blog!


  16. gerard oosterman Says:

    Glad you liked the Sibelius. A hearty welcome too Barbara.


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