Sunday, August 23, 2009

William Primrose

William Primrose was a truly outstanding Scottish viola player of the Twentieth Century. He was born on August 23, 1904 (Heifetz was 3 years old.) His first violin lessons were with his father, John Primrose, a violinist in the Scottish Orchestra. After graduating from the Guildhall School of Music in 1924, he played violin wherever he could. Two years later, he began lessons with (the 68-year-old) Eugene Ysaye, who, it is said, encouraged him to give up the violin in favor of the viola. Nobody knows why and I haven't done enough research to find out. Anyway, "what's done cannot be undone." From 1930 until 1935, he played viola in the London String Quartet. In 1937, he joined the NBC Symphony Orchestra as assistant principal violist but left after he heard that Toscanini would be quitting the conductor's post in 1941. He was there for four years. Eventually, his solo career really took off. He was the first violist to record Harold In Italy, Berlioz's famous viola concerto (or tone poem or fantasy or whatever it is). That was in 1946. This is the same piece Paganini refused to play because it was not dazzling enough, though that is just a rumor. Who really knows? Primrose also premiered Bartok's Viola Concerto (1949). He was so technically brilliant that he could play Paganini's violin caprices on the viola - no small accomplishment. Nevertheless, Emanuel Vardi was the first to record the Caprices on the viola. Primrose played an Amati viola (which is really a reconstructed viola – originally much larger) now owned by the former principal violist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Roberto Diaz. Later in his life, Primrose was a distinguished teacher at Indiana, USC, Juilliard, and other schools and wrote several method books. There are several videos of his playing on YouTube. As far as I know, Primrose is the only violist in history to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He died on May 1, 1982, at age 77.

1 comment:

  1. I know he was not technically a violinist, but he certainly was for the first 26 years of his career. I gave him credit for that.