JAVS Fall 2023

Although William took his development as a violinist extremely seriously, he never deprived himself of more typical boyhood activities. For example: often mischievous, this energetic lad loved such competitive sports as soccer, cricket, and boxing, even instigating a fight or two on occasion. Like his father, William was an avid reader. Blessed with the addition of an outstanding memory, he was known to frequently and spontaneously offer direct quotes from some of his favorite authors and literary passages. I have always found it so fascinating that almost all of William’s childhood interests remained amazingly important to him throughout his entire life. Yet, never content with just yesterday’s knowledge of any subject, he continuously drove himself to be as current as possible regarding all his interests. One of my favorite examples of his innate drive for constant self-improvement is found in a very touching letter he had written to his dying wife Dorothy (his first wife) shortly before her death. Although, the original letter to which I refer is available for review at PIVA, for purposes of this article I have chosen to paraphrase my point. In said letter, which begins, as many to her do—with, “My Darling,” —he shares with her his extreme pleasure at recently coming across a phrase (along with related discussion) in a book by one of his favorite English authors, Leslie Weatherhead. Turns out this phrase, to which he was referring, “The Curse of a Wandering Mind,” reminds William of what he believes to be one of the major faults of his own life. Namely, his frequent lack of concentration while practicing. As the letter progresses, he describes several specific examples of how he has consistently, for many years, allowed his mind to wander during practice. After reviewing Weatherhead’s words, he was now certain that his own personal lack of concentration has most certainly been the root cause for many, many wasted hours. He then enthusiastically (and happily) assures Dorothy that those days are now over, and with that thought in mind, he had just completed what he considered to be, by far, the very best practice of his entire life!

This letter has always seemed so amazing to me, especially since by the time he had written it in October of 1951 (at age 47) he had already established himself as the world’s greatest solo violist … despite just then seeing the light as to how to practice properly. The Violist is Born Well, on another note … as history has shown us, his active and diversified youth certainly does not appear to have been a major obstacle to his development as a major musical artist. In actuality, he seriously believed—and strongly attempted to convey to his students—that the more of life’s offerings an individual could experience first-hand in their daily lives, the more they could bring to their music-making. This included both positive and negative elements. performing violinist and had caught the attention of Sir Landon Ronald, a highly respected conductor and Principal of the famed Guildhall School of Music in London. Almost immediately, following Sir Ronald’s awareness of William’s performance skills, he offered the young violinist an outstanding scholarship to the Guildhall School. After considerable discussion, the Primrose family not only graciously accepted Sir Ronald’s generous offer, but they also made the decision to move the entire family from Glasgow to London. Following three years of study at the Guildhall School, William made his official London debut at Queen’s Hall on June 5th,1923 to rave reviews. His program included both the Elgar Violin Concerto and Lalo’s “Symphonie Espagnol” accompanied by the Royal Albert Hall Orchestra conducted by Sir Landon Ronald. Following this triumphant London debut, William continued to expand his solo violin performance career throughout Europe, which included invitations to spend the following three summers in Belgium under the guidance and coaching of the great violin master, Eugène Ysaÿe. It was Ysaÿe, who over these three summers, strongly encouraged William to participate in chamber music increasingly as a violist , a recommendation that strongly motivated William’s ultimate decision to focus his primary performance efforts on the viola. By the time William celebrated his 16th birthday in 1920, he had already established himself as a rising young


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

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