West Surrey Area
Museums & Art Galleries
The Recorder was his Life
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
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):
Carl Dolmetsch - an Obituary