Dolmetsch, Arnold

Dolmetsch, Arnold

Arnold Dolmetsch if often viewed as the father of the modern historical performance movement. A passonate advocate for early music he set up the Haslemere Early Music Festival which is the longest running music fesitval in Britain.

He was a musician and maker of musical instruments, born in 1858 in Le Mans, France and died in Haslemere, Surrey in 1940. He lived in West Dulwich, London, at the end of the nineteenth century and taught at Dulwich College in the 1880s. Later, he moved to Haslemere. The Haslemere Early Music Festival, which Dolmetsch started in 1924, is the longest running music festival in Britain. It is directly linked to Dolmetsch through his grandchildren, who run and sometimes perform in the festival.

Dolmetsch was a passionate advocate of early music and is often viewed as the father of the modern historical performance movement. He played the recorder, keyboards, lute and viol and sought out music for these instruments from sources such as the manuscript collections at the British Library. Dolmetsch introduced audiences throughout London to the sounds of these instruments, which were unknown to most listeners at the start of his career.

Dolmetsch was embraced by the members of the Arts and Crafts Movement, a counter current to the Industrial Revolution. It rebelled against the shoddy products and ideology of mass production, including the poor work conditions imposed upon makers of factory produced goods. Arnold Dolmetsch's passion for craftsmanship and the music of the past resonated with the movement. William Morris was a close personal friend of Dolmetsch and urged him to build his first harpsichord for the 1896 Arts and Crafts Exhibition, in the New Gallery, Regent Street. This became known as the Green Harpsichord, now in the Horniman Museum, so called because the decoration of its exterior was not completed in time for the exhibition and instead was painted with green lacquer.

Dolmetsch was a keen champion of the clavichord, which had a very quiet delicate sound, with a smaller range of dynamics than a piano. It was originally used for private practice in the home and would not have been heard in large concert halls. Dolmetsch believed a different kind of appreciation was required from audiences when listening to the clavichord and strove to created a conducive listening atmosphere in candlelit concerts in his home.

The recorder was the instrument with which Dolmetsch became most closely associated. At the beginning of the twentieth century he purchased from Sotheby's a recorder made by Bressan. He realised the potential the recorder could have in musical education as it was easy to for a beginner to create a good tone, unlike other woodwind instruments such as the oboe, clarinet or flute. Dolmetsch made his own recorder and then his company began to mass produce them in plastic rather than wood. This enabled generations of schoolchildren to learn to play the recorder.

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