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Carl Dolmetsch:
The Recorder was his Life

Report of the lecture
given by Jeanne Dolmetsch
on June 26th 2013

Jeanne Dolmetsch gave us a fascinating talk about her family and the life of her father from his childhood.  It was a privilege to be given the lecture by his daughter resulting in a completely different atmosphere to the usual academic presentation.

Jeanne explained the family was Swiss in origin but migrated to France and then to England eventually settling in Haslemere.  Carl was the youngest of four children.  They were all encouraged by their father to learn several instruments.  By the age of seven Carl was participating in family concerts, and in 1925 played in the first Haslemere Festival of Early Music and Instruments.  Her talk was illustrated with numerous family photographs depicting them playing their instruments; Jeanne also included snippets of recordings to illustrate the versatility of the various recorders.

Carl at the age of seven, after a family concert, left a bag containing a unique 18th-century recorder belonging to his father on the platform at Waterloo Station.  The loss inspired his father, Arnold Dolmetsch, who had made measurements of the instrument, to make the first of the modern recorders.  Carl was quick to learn the skills required to make precision instruments using traditional hand crafting tools.

As a young man, Carl Dolmetsch became one of the foremost recorder virtuosi; but it was not only as a recorder player that Dolmetsch excelled.  He studied the violin and played all the instruments in the viol family.

He was not only an accomplished musician, a skilled technician but also an entrepreneur.  During the Second World War production of recorders ceased in their workshop in Haslemere in order to manufacture plastic components for the aircraft industry.  Following the end of the war the Germans flooded the market with relatively cheap massed produced wooden recorders.  Not too overwhelmed by this development he turned the knowledge and experience he gained producing precision aircraft parts to making the first plastic recorders since wood was not essential.

In 1932, when asked to provide the music for a production of Twelfth Night, he was introduced to a young keyboard player, Joseph Saxby.  Saxby subsequently became Dolmetsch's accompanist and this amazing partnership lasted nearly 60 years.  Their concert tours took them to many different countries including many to America and, nearer to home, annual concerts were given in the Wigmore Hall.

Dolmetsch and Saxby were particularly keen to encourage a younger generation to make music.  Apart from developing the plastic recorder (which became popular world-wide), they gave concerts and workshops to school children long before the idea became commonplace.

Jeanne played a delightful piece of music on her descant recorder - it was the icing on the cake.  To hear it played so expertly was a real treat and I for one never thought a recorder was capable of producing such a beautiful sound – too many school concerts!

Brian and Hazel Vine

Related Links (open in new windows):

Dolmetsch Online website
Carl Dolmetsch - an Obituary