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Baton (conducting)

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Baton (conducting)

Stamp from Deutsche Post AG from 1998

A baton is a stick that is used by conductors primarily to enlarge and enhance the manual and bodily movements associated with directing an ensemble of musicians.


  • Description 1
  • Usage 2
  • History 3
    • Pre-16th century 3.1
    • 16th–18th centuries 3.2
    • 19th century 3.3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Modern batons are generally made of a lightweight wood, [2]

Batons used by Arturo Toscanini.

Batons have normally varied in length from about 10 to 24 inches (250 to 610 mm) though a range of between 12 and 26 inches (300 and 660 mm) is more commonly used; Henry Wood once requested the use of a 24-inch baton.[3] When Gaspare Spontini arrived in Dresden in 1844, Wagner had a baton made from a thick ebony staff with ivory knobs at either end. [4]


Igor Stravinsky conducting with a baton (1929).

Conductors view their gestures as the primary means to communicate musical ideas, whether or not they choose to use batons. Leonard Bernstein is quoted as saying, "If one [the conductor] uses a baton, the baton itself must be a living thing, charged with a kind of electricity, which makes it an instrument of meaning in its tiniest movement."

The usual way of holding the baton is between the thumb and the first two fingers with the grip in against the palm of the hand. The baton is usually held in the right hand though some left-handed conductors hold it in the left. Young Leopold Stokowski and Dimitri Mitropoulos, however, choose not to hold a baton, preferring to conduct only with their hands. This method is common with smaller groups and choral conductors.[3] If the conductor does not use a baton, their hands must do the job with equal clarity, and the gestures must be first and always meaningful in terms of the music.[6]


John Philip Sousa conducting with a baton (1911).

Before the use of the baton, orchestral ensembles were conducted from the harpsichord or the first violin lead. Conductors first began to use violin bows or rolled pieces of paper before the modern baton was introduced.

Pre-16th century

The first reported use of the conducting baton in a performance dates back to 709 BC, during which the leader, "Pherekydes of Patrae, giver of rhythm" had,

...stationed himself in the centre and had placed himself on a high seat, waving a golden staff, and the players on the flute and cythara were...placed in a circle around when Pherekydes with his golden staff gave the signal, all the art-experienced men began in one and the same time...[7]

16th–18th centuries

J. B. Lully

On 8 January 1687, Jean-Baptiste Lully was conducting a Te Deum to celebrate Louis XIV of France's recent recovery from illness. As was the common practice, he was beating time by banging a long staff (a precursor to the baton; the French word bâton actually meaning "staff") against the floor when he struck his toe, creating an abscess. The wound turned gangrenous, but Lully refused to have his toe amputated and the infection spread, resulting in his death on 22 March.

19th century

The baton began to gain in popularity between 1820 and 1840. The first batons were narrow and conical wooden wands that had an engraving of three rings near the bottom that indicated the handle. The Hallé Orchestra reported that Daniel Turk used a baton in 1810, with motions so exuberant that he occasionally hit the chandelier above his head and showered himself with glass.[8]

External links

  1. ^ José Antonio Bowen et al., The Cambridge Companion to Conducting (UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003) p.3,4
  2. ^ Nancy Newman (2010), Good Music for a Free People: The Germania Musical Society in Nineteenth-century America, University Rochester, p. 279,  
  3. ^ a b José Antonio Bowen et al., The Cambridge Companion to Conducting (UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003)
  4. ^ José Antonio Bowen et al., The Cambridge Companion to Conducting (UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003) p.104
  5. ^ Michael Miller (4 October 2005), The Complete Idiot's Guide to Conducting Music, DK, p. 97,  
  6. ^ Leonard Bernstein, The Art of Conducting in The Joy of Music (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1960) p.150
  7. ^ Professor Murchard, [?] "Discovery of Ancient Greek Tablets Relevant to Music," Harmonicon 3, (April-May 1825): 56, 76
  8. ^ Charles Hallé, The Autobiography of Charles Hallé with Correspondence and Diaries ed. Michael Kennedy (London: Paul Elek Books, 1972) p.116
  9. ^ Ignaz Moscheles, The Life of Moscheles with Selections from his Diaries and Correspondence tr. A.D. Coleridge (London: Hurst and Blackett, 1873) vol.1 p.76
  10. ^ H. Bertram Cox et al., Leaves from the Journals of Sir George Smart (London: Longmans Green and Co., 1907) p.212
  11. ^ John Ella (1802–1888), supplement to 'Musical Union Record' (London) June 11, 1867. Family papers, pedigrees and early pictures of this musician are held at the Record Office in Leicester, archive collection MISC1260 and MISC1294, also DE6612 and at The East Riding of Yorkshire Archives in Beverley, collection DDX551.


When Felix Mendelssohn returned to London in 1832, despite objections from violin leaders, he was encouraged to go on with his baton.[11] Despite the initial disagreement, the baton was in regular use at the Philharmonic a year later.


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