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Frederick Riddle

Whilst Riddle is perhaps not so well known as his contemporary and countryman William Primrose, he—similarly inspired by the older Lionel Tertis—is just as important in the history of the viola. In character he was more self-effacing than Primrose and Tertis, both of whom wrote autobiographies and pushed the viola as a serious solo instrument; Riddle preferred the quieter life of the orchestral player to the glare of the spotlight.

Riddle’s father, a member of the Royal Marines Band, was keen for him to become a string player of the highest calibre. Greatly inspired by seeing Albert Sammons perform, Riddle began on the violin and already had a number of concertos in his repertoire when he entered London’s Royal College of Music at the age of sixteen; but here he switched to the viola, finding that he took quite naturally to its larger size and more muscular techniques. Going on to teach at colleges in the UK, Riddle became a key figure in raising and maintaining standards of orchestral viola playing, encouraging fluent sight-reading, appreciation of the viola’s rôle within an ensemble and an architectural understanding of musical phrasing. His lessons often lasted hours, with much of the time spent on mastering studies by Kreutzer and Schradieck, and with a great concentration upon efficiency of posture and bow-hold. Pupils who had not practised enough were sent away in disgrace!




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