Early Dolmetsch family recordings on CD

Rudolph, Cécile and Arnold Dolmetsch recording a Dowland lute song (

The Dolmetsch Family with Diana Poulton: Pioneer Early Music Recordings, volume 1 (published by the Lute Society in association with the Dolmetsch Foundation) is an important historical document for anyone who’s interested in two generations of early music pioneers who were active before the Leonhardt/Harnoncourt era even began.

This CD is also a small homage to Diana Poulton (1903–1995), lutenist, founder of the Lute Society, editor, and biographer of John Dowland. Poulton was the first person in Britain to make a serious study of the lute. She primarily taught herself, had three years of tearful lessons with Arnold Dolmetsch (described in the sleeve notes as “a very irascible teacher”) and then continued her researches into original sources at the British Museum, encouraged to do so by Rudolph, Arnold’s mild-mannered and brilliant son. For a fuller account of her life, see this appreciation.

Interestingly, a Dolmetsch lute, reportedly made for her, has just turned up at an auction in New Zealand. See here.

The recordings are taken mostly from 78s issued by Dolmetsch Gramophone Records between 1937 and 1948, with two additional tracks from the Columbia series History of Music through Eye and Ear, which was produced around 1930. I stumbled across this CD while checking out original 78 rpm recordings of the Dolmetsches on Worldcat. Some master acetate discs were offered online, and I was curious to know to what extent these had been issued commercially (many early Dolmetsch recordings – including the 1929 full set of the Brandenburgs – were never released). Given the scarcity of the original 78s and the historical importance of these performances, I was surprised to see that only one library (in Buffalo, New York) has this CD.

Arnold, his third wife, Mabel, their children and musical friends play in small ensembles and viol and recorder consorts by the Lawes brothers, Purcell, Dowland, Marais, Leclair and others. The extraordinary basso profundo of Artemy Raevsky and the “natural” voice of Cécile Dolmetsch are featured on several tracks, Arnold plays William Byrd’s pavan and galliard “The Earl of Salisbury” on the clavichord, along with the first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” sonata, on a piano of 1799. There are also several compositions by Arnold himself: three are in “early” style, but his Easter hymn for tenor, piano, organ, violin and violone sounds nothing like what you would expect.
The sleeve notes give full details of the record labels and the original 78s plus tantalizing information about other old recordings, some of which may be issued in a second volume.

I’m writing about this now, as I have a feeling that this CD is known only to members of the Lute Society and dedicated Dolmetsch aficionados, and it deserves to be heard by a wider audience.
This CD is not available in record shops, but you can order it here.

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2 comments to Early Dolmetsch family recordings on CD

  • Tom Henshaw

    “Arnold plays William Byrd’s pavan and galliard “The Earl of Salisbury” on the clavichord,” On Columbia’s History of Music by Ear and Eye, it’s Rudolph Dolmetsch who plays The Earl of Salisbury – on harpsichord, not clavichord.

  • My copy of the Dolmetsch Recordings disc shows Arnold Dolmetsch on the clavichord. The other side is Arnold on the viol, with four other family members, performing “The Four Note Pavan For Five Viols,” by Alfonso Ferrabosco.

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