With the death of Dart’s close personal friend and executor William Oxenbury, Gustav Leonhardt is now probably the only person alive who knew Dart, but not as a teacher. They were apparently well acquainted and served together on the jury at the harpsichord competition at Bruges.
Their approach to Froberger seems quite similar in these recordings of his Lamentation for Ferdinand III, made within a year of each other, in which Dart uses Leonhardt’s favourite instrument: the clavichord. See a review of Dart’s recording here:
Choice of instruments
Otherwise, their choice of instruments was quite different. Although Dart sometimes used historical instruments, some of which he restored himself, he apparently preferred modern steel-framed “revival” harpsichords.
From 1951 Dart was involved in the annual quadruple-harpsichord jamborees at the Royal Festival Hall with George Malcolm, Eileen Joyce and Denis Vaughan (who was instrumental in the creation of the UK National Lottery) – all playing “whispering giants’” which needed to be amplified to balance with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The conductor was Boris Ord, another unsung early music pioneer.
Who knows anything about Boris Ord or has solo harpsichord or organ recordings featuring him? [Please comment]
On the appearance in July 1957 of a recording, the Gramophone reviewer enthused as follows:
Those who have enjoyed, year after year, the unique Festival Hall concerts at which Mr. Thomas Goff assembles a resplendent quartet of his inimitable harpsichords, will rejoice that some part of this hardy annual repertoire is at last made available on disc.
Here’s the beginning of Bach’s Concerto for three harpsichords in C major.
Dart continued to play modern-style harpsichords, with pedals and a 16-foot register, up to his last recording, made with Igor Kipnis and issued posthumously in 1972. Here they are in Couperin’s Allemande a deux clavecins (IXe Ordre), in which Dart’s Goff was parried by a Goble of equally gargantuan proportions.
Dart did leave us a recording of some historical organs, however. The 1958 sleeve notes for Two Centuries of English Organ Music state:
This record contains, it is believed for the first time in the history of the gramophone, a survey of English Organ Music (sic) stretching over 200 years, played on instruments contemporary with the examples selected. No pipework is used that was not part of the original organ…
I can only imagine that some tracks sounded very out of tune, at the time.
Given his background, it seemed unlikely that Dart would end up as a professor of music, first briefly at Cambridge and then at King’s College, London. He sang a solo, as a boy soprano, on the BBC when he was a Chapel Royal chorister and, from 1938, spent a year at the Royal College of Music on “keyboard instruments” with Arnold Goldsbrough, about whom we also know precious little today.
Does anyone know anything about Arnold Goldsbrough or have memorabilia, photos, or recordings – particularly of his organ or solo harpsichord playing? [Please comment]
Dart then took a Maths degree, and after war service – during which he met Neville Marriner, when they were both patients in a military hospital – continued his musicological studies privately in Brussels, with the erudite and very aged Charles van den Borren (born in 1874), whom he outlived by only five years!
Mary Potts told me that he had said that he knew he would die young, and consequently needed to be very productive. And, indeed, aged 49, he died of stomach cancer; midway through a recording of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. Sir Neville Marriner reports his demise in the booklet which accompanied the set (see also his extensive personal tribute):
We recorded Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 on January 30, 1971. Bob [Robert Thurston Dart] looked grey and tired. On Monday he did not make the frequent journeys with us to the control room. On Tuesday he had a mattress by the harpsichord so that he could rest between ‘takes’. He played the continuo for the first movements of Concertos 2 and 4, and for the serene Adagio [from a Sonata in G, BWV 1021] used for the slow movement for No. 3. I put him into the car which took him to the clinic at 5.30 P.M. and saw him no more.
His place in the 5th Brandenburg was taken by George Malcolm and the remaining continuo was split between Raymond Leppard and Colin Tilney (a student of Mary Potts). Although Dart had already recorded this concerto with the Philomusica – complete with a registered crescendo in the first movement cadenza! – it would have been interesting to see how his views had changed, more than 10 years later.
No published biography
Although dedicated students organized a reunion, in 2001, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of his death; there are no plans currently to write a book about Robert Thurston Dart, as the prime candidate for that job has also died. However, since I started writing these posts, Greg Holt has assembled an online biography from items of “Dartiana” which he inherited, which includes some very interesting details and early photos.
One final claim to fame
Reportedly, it was the crumhorn hanging on Dart’s study wall – which formed part of a tantalizing, now dissipated and largely undocumented instrument collection – that inspired David Munrow to explore early wind instruments, and ultimately led to the formation of the Early Music Consort of London.