For UN International Day of Forests, musicians Viktoria Mullova, Matthew Barley and Tasmin Little lead a campaign to save the endangered pernambuco trees used to make bows, with only 6% habitat left.
Launching on UN International Day of Forests, Sunday 21st March 2021, a new campaign from the classical music world, Trees of Music, will protect and reforest threatened pernambuco trees in Brazil – essential in the manufacture of musical bows – while restoring their native habitats and addressing the historical impact of classical music on the environment.
The campaign launches with a video by violinist Viktoria Mullova, cellist Matthew Barley and Misha Mullov-Abbado of two compositions by the pioneering Chiquinha Gonzaga (1847-1935), the first woman conductor in Brazil, an abolitionist campaigner and feminist icon. They perform Gonzaga’s Lua Branca and Yayá Fazenda accompanied by a lockdown string orchestra, in a specially commissioned arrangement by ambassador Ben Comeau. A simplified arrangement will be made available for individuals, ensembles and school orchestras to perform as part of the campaign.
Years of exploitation and illegal deforestation mean the tree that gives its name to Brazil is now on the brink of extinction. Pernambuco was listed as an endangered species in 2007, and Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, the tree’s native and only habitat, has shrunk to just 6% of its original size. The forest is estimated to be reducing at upwards of 1-3% per year. It is home to over 800 different animals and can have more than 450 species of tree in an area the size of a football field. In 2018, over 20,000 violin bows made with illegally logged wood from the black market were seized. Without help, the pernambuco tree could be gone for good in less than a decade.
Led by Master bow-maker and ecologist Marco Rapso, and with support from the global classical music community, Trees of Music aims to distribute 50,000 pernambuco saplings to small-scale farmers in the Brazilian state of Espírito Santo. A portion of the saplings will be planted along environmentally-sensitive waterways or ecological corridors, helping to regenerate natural habitats. The remainder will be planted by rural agriculturalists, providing provide vital livelihood opportunities and securing a sustainable harvest for the long-term future of classical string instruments.
Originally exported to Europe in the 1500s for use as a red dye, pernambuco – also known as brazilwood (paubrasilia) – was found to be ideal for manufacturing bows in the mid-18th century due to its ability to hold a fixed curve, championed by bowmaker François Xavier Tourte and violinist Giovanni Battista Viotti, who declared: “Le violon, c’est l’ archet” – “the violin, it is the bow.” 250 years after its introduction, most professional bow-makers – mainly found in France, Italy, Germany, the USA, and the UK – now use pernambuco wood, which has gained favour with classical musicians due to its unique resonance and sound quality. Trees of Music is calling on lovers of classical music to help replenish these overexploited trees, restore their degraded native ecosystems and create a sustainable, long-term source of pernambuco to keep the music playing for generations of classical music lovers to come.