A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Rosin
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ROSIN (Fr. Colophane), a preparation applied to the hair of the violin bow to give it the necessary 'bite' upon the strings. Without some such agent, the horsehair would slip noiselessly over the catgut. Rosin is the residuary gum of turpentine after distillation. The ordinary rosin of commerce is a coarse, hard substance, quite useless to the fiddler, for whom the rough material undergoes a process of refinement. The ancient English recipe was to boil rough rosin down in vinegar, a process no longer in vogue, as excellent French rosin is now to be had at a very trifling cost. It is prepared by dissolving the rough article in a glazed earthen vessel over a slow charcoal fire. As it melts, it is strained through coarse canvas into a second vessel also kept at a moderate heat, from which it is poured into pasteboard or metal moulds. The process requires some delicacy of eye and hand, and the greatest care in handling so inflammable a material, and is usually entrusted to women. Some players affect to prefer the rosin of Gand, others that of Vuillaume, but both are made of the same material and at the same factory. Rosin should be transparent, of a darkish yellow colour in the mass, and quite white when pulverised: it ought to fall from the bow, when first applied to the strings, in a very fine white dust: when crushed between the fingers it ought not to feel sticky. The best rosin is made from Venetian turpentine. The same sort of rosin serves for the violin, viola, and violoncello. The double-bass bow requires a stiffer preparation than pure rosin, and accordingly double-bass rosin is made of ordinary rosin and white pitch in equal proportions. Emery powder and other matters are sometimes added in the composition of rosin, but are quite unnecessary, and even injurious to the tone. A liquid rosin, applied to the bow with a camel's-hair brush, has recently been invented, and has its advocates.
[ E. J. P. ]