By Philip J. Kass | From the November-December 2023 issue of Strings Magazine
France is no stranger to instrument making dynasties—witness the Lupot-Gand-Bernardel-Caressa-Français dynasty of violin makers (six generations and counting). In fact, many if not most of the craftsmen from Mirecourt came from families in which generation after generation plied the same professions. In Mirecourt, this was partly because instrument making dominated the skilled crafts and had since the Duke of Lorraine had established the town that way in the 1600s.
The first Bazin bow maker was François (1824–65). The son of a delivery man, he grew up literally surrounded by violin and bow makers: family, friends, and neighbors. These included some of the great names in the craft, including Maire and Maline. He had already started making bows by age 16 and seems to have started his own business by 17. He proved to be both a good craftsman and businessman, and was soon employing others to do piecework for him. After his early death at age 41, in one of the periodic cholera outbreaks that plagued Mirecourt during those years, his business was inherited by his son Charles Nicolas (1847–1915).
Charles Nicolas was just 18 when he took over the shop but ran it with finesse, turning it into one of the preeminent establishments in town. Bows of the highest quality were produced for the trade, many of them branded with the names of those who sold them. Virtually every significant bow maker from those years in Mirecourt honed his skills in that shop, often departing for fame and fortune in Paris. This corresponded with a long period of stability and growth in the area, the long peace that started after the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 and ended with the start of World War I in August 1914. Not only did Charles Nicolas run a successful shop, but he was also an advocate for the craft in public meetings and even served for a period on the town council. While serving on it, he also advocated for a national school of violin and bow making, something that was a bit too far ahead of its time and so was only realized many years later.
In 1907 he stepped back from day-to-day management of the enterprise, turning it over to his son Louis (1881–1953). Two other sons also entered the trade: one became a bow maker before exchanging that life for that of a musician and music teacher, and the other became a violin maker. While Louis had his father’s help in getting acclimated to the running of a large enterprise, it would require all of his talents to manage the storm that blew in shortly before his father’s death. Many craftsmen went off to fight in the First World War; many did not return, and those who did often came home with serious and life-long injuries. Louis himself was called up for service, closing his shop for the duration and working feverishly to catch up on his return.
While the nature of his business remained much as it had been when his father ran it, and while he continued with a large shop and large production for the trade for several more decades, we can see a gradual slowing in the pace of commerce through the diminishing head count of his shop’s employees: 17 in 1907, eight in 1921, four in 1937. Something similar was happening all around the town. Perhaps it was the same situation as one encounters with the violin makers: there are only so many violinists who only need so many instruments, and the instruments can last almost forever. And then with the German occupation of France, starting in 1940 and lasting until 1944, one really wonders how much trade was realistically possible under those circumstances.
Louis had two sons who entered the trades: Rene, who was a violin maker, and Charles Alfred (1907–87), who was a bow maker. Tellingly, at the end of the Second World War, Charles Alfred set up his own independent shop, spelling the end of the vast workshop started by his great-grandfather. When his father died, he kept on just one worker and ceased producing for the trade, concentrating on making bows for individual clients. Nonetheless, he remained quite busy throughout his life and eventually retired several years before his death. He had no successors.