JAVS Fall 2023

became the violist of the well-established and extremely popular London String Quartet.

First Love and Early Life In addition to all the musical and academic opportunities William experienced at the Guildhall School, we must not ignore the first-hand experiences he enjoyed in the world of romance. Ah yes, her name was Dorothy—Dorothy Friend. Known by her friends as a live wire who encouraged much laughter in her presence, she came from Exeter in Devon, England, and had transferred to the Guildhall School to study voice, where she and William had ultimately become acquainted. Her ability to make friends quickly combined with her absorbing interest in people proved to be a major advantage to William, especially in those artist-room gatherings following his performances. You see, although both confident and brilliant on stage, he was never quite at ease backstage in response to the barrage of excessive (flowery) compliments which were constantly bestowed upon him. 2 Well, eventually, William and Dorothy’s ever-increasing love and respect for each other led to their marriage in London on October 2nd, 1928. Although never producing any children, their marriage of 23 years appears to have been filled with love and mutual admiration as documented by the large collection of letters between Dorothy and William currently preserved in PIVA. I have often wondered whether it was Primrose’s intensifying love of the viola that encouraged his romance and love of Dorothy, or whether it was his intensifying love of Dorothy that helped convince him of his overpowering romance with and love for the viola. Either way, I just can’t help feeling that his decision to marry Dorothy and his commitment to being a violist—all within months of each other—could not have been a coincidence. Personally, I have always wanted to believe that it was his growing love affair with the viola that concurrently deepened his love for and marriage to Dorothy! Oh well… I guess that thought process is a bit like wondering whether it had been the chicken or the egg that came first…

From Dorothy and William’s marriage in 1928 through 1934, professionally, William focused on two primary musical goals: 1) To establish himself as the finest chamber music violist in existence, and … 2) To open the world’s eyes as to the potential of the viola as a major SOLO instrument! Through his membership in the world-famous London String Quartet, he was indeed able to satisfy his first goal … and, because of his tenacity, dedication, and ever increasing number of major appearances as a solo violist, he accomplished a great deal towards his second. However, with the emergence and expansion of Hitler’s influence by the mid 1930’s, a great number of Jewish artists and performers were forced into hiding, ultimately accelerating a drastic reduction of cultural support in general as well as live performances throughout all of Europe. As this bleak outlook for the arts became more of a reality each day, even successful performing groups such as the London String Quartet were forced to re-evaluate their future. Weighing all their options at the time, the London String Quartet unfortunately made the decision to officially disband. This difficult decision, combined with the ever-increasing disappearance of other European performance opportunities, forced Primrose to think more creatively—as well as look to the United States as he explored alternative potential solo performance venues. One of his most brilliant resulting creative ideas was to approach his personal contacts at the BBC—for whom he had successfully recorded on numerous occasions as a solo violinist—and convince them to produce a recording of him performing two of Paganini’s infamous Caprices, #5 & #13, but on viola . After a bit of arm twisting by Primrose, BBC did finally honor his request and produced what ultimately became two of the most historic recordings ever made by a violist.

Irrespective of coincidence or not, it was shortly after William and Dorothy’s marriage that William officially

As he had hoped, it was these two magnificently unique recordings that ultimately attracted the attention of

Journal of the American Viola Society / Vol. 39, No. 2, Fall 2023


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