I heard a recording of early 20th century music this morning using the sort of instruments that were contemporary and it got me thinking about David Munrow. I was extremely lucky to have been at the right age to have come across David Munrow just at the time when I was getting interested in early music. I had been a singer from an early age and so was used to singing Byrd, Tallis, Gibbons and others, but I did not play an instrument. To rectify this I taught myself the recorder during the summer vacation of 1968. Then a whole new world of fun and music making opened up for me. Then, in 1970, when I was at Cambridge, I went to hear David Munrow and the Early Music Consort of London play in the Senate House. (It might have been 1971, I cannot remember if it was in the Michaelmas or Trinity term). In this large, open, rectangular space the group of five players looked lonely. There was Oliver Brooks playing bass string parts, James Tyler with a variety of lutes and cittoles, Christopher Hogwood playing organ and virginals ( I think), James Bowman providing the vocals and David Munrow. He played the melody lines on a series of strange and wonderful instruments. I can still remember that he played 21 during the course of the evening. They ranged from recorders and the gemshorn, to shawms, kortholt, rackett, cornemuse, bagpipe and crumhorns. All these instruments were laid out on a table in front of the performers and one was able to go and view them at the end. It was one of the most exciting and inspiring performances one could ever wish to see and I was hooked. I have played crumhorns and racketts since, as well as various recorders. The glory of Munrow’s playing was its musicality combined with a sense of adventure. You were being taken on a journey of discovery. Later that same academic year James Bowman and Christopher Hogwood gave a series of lumchtime concerts in the Fitzwilliam Museum and I dropped everything to ensure I was there. I suppose that I might have developed a love for early music without seeing David Munrow and then following his career with interest, but I doubt it. I have a number of his recordings and they still excite me. His suicide in 1976 came as an enormous shock to me and only Jacqueline Du Pre’s death had a similar impact. I am amazed, even now, at the sheer volume of recordings, performances, TV and radio shows and research that David Munrow managed to fit into a career of no more than ten years. That sheer intensity of purpose makes me think of Schubert, another musician with a very short career but a huge volume of works and achievement. There has been no one since David Munrow to take his place. I have done workshops with a number of eminent early music performers and experts but none has given me the same frisson as that concert in the Senate House. Bye for now.
October 31, 2011 entry.