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William Primrose (1904 - 1982)

As the son of a violin teacher, William Primrose had a childhood filled with music. His father John Primrose started his son’s lessons at the age of four with Austrian Camillo Ritter (a Joachim pupil). William spent hours at concerts in Glasgow and on the Isle of Man, observing the Scottish Orchestra and attending performances by Enrico Caruso as well as those by leading violinists including Ysaÿe, Kubelík, Elman, Kreisler and Szigeti.

When he was fifteen the family moved to London and Primrose took up a place at the Guildhall School of Music where he found the tuition somewhat basic; yearning for more challenging study he spent many of his lessons reading a volume of concertos edited by Joachim. Soon after graduating, whilst working as a violinist, his playing began to falter and he went to Belgium to study with Ysaÿe who encouraged him to switch to the viola, an ambition he had held since trying his father’s instrument as a child. He made the move completely when he joined the London String Quartet as violist in 1930, an epiphany which he described as ‘seeing the light’. When the quartet disbanded, affected by the 1935 depression, Primrose made a living by accepting any work he could obtain, including appearances in Milan and Berlin. There was also a memorable performance of the Walton Concerto with the Royal Philharmonic Society under Beecham: it was under-rehearsed and Beecham lost his place in the Scherzo, going into what Primrose called his ‘fencing act’!




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