I’ve been in Scotland, where I enjoyed seeing Raeburn’s portrait of the 18th-century Scottish fiddler Niel Gow in the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh. I was amused by the information beside the painting, which explained that ‘as a fiddler, Gow was especially acclaimed for the strength of his up-bow, or returning stroke.’ Never have I heard a violinist’s up-bow singled out for particular praise. After all, one in every two strokes is an up-bow, and it’s hard to imagine quite what it was in Gow’s playing style that featured the ‘returning strokes’ so memorably. Or perhaps one could wonder what everyone else’s up-bows were like!
The poet Robert Burns knew Niel Gow, and I loved Burn’s description of him as having an expression of ‘kind open-heartedness mixed with unmistrusting simplicity.’ Unmistrusting! What a delightful choice of word, subtly different from ‘trusting’.