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David Munrow

David Munrow

David Munrow


Born in Birmingham, he was the son of Albert Munrow, a Birmingham University lecturer and physical education instructor who wrote a book on the subject, and was so highly respected that a sports centre was named after him. David Munrow himself attended King Edward's School, Birmingham, until 1960. He excelled academically. In 1960 David Munrow went to Peru, teaching English under the British Council Overseas Voluntary Scheme. He returned with Bolivian flutes and other obscure instruments. Read more on Last.fm
Born in Birmingham, he was the son of Albert Munrow, a Birmingham University lecturer and physical education instructor who wrote a book on the subject, and was so highly respected that a sports centre was named after him. David Munrow himself attended King Edward's School, Birmingham, until 1960. He excelled academically. In 1960 David Munrow went to Peru, teaching English under the British Council Overseas Voluntary Scheme. He returned with Bolivian flutes and other obscure instruments.

Studying English at Pembroke College, Cambridge, he noticed a crumhorn on a friend's wall and threw himself into independent study that climaxed in his book Instruments of the Middle Age and Renaissance (1976). From his starting position as a pianist, singer and bassoonist he taught himself many old instruments. He joined the Royal Shakespeare Company as a bassoonist but soon played instruments of Shakespeare's time. Although he displayed talent on a wide variety of instruments he had a particular lasting influence as a recorder player - his 'English' style of discreet, controlled expression being in marked contrast to the greater tonal flexibility displayed by the 'continental' style espoused by the likes of Frans Brüggen. By 1967 he was a lecturer at the University of Leicester and married to Gillian Reid.

He teamed up with Christopher Hogwood to form the Early Music Consort, each of whose core members was an expert in his or her own right. Sometimes other professional musicians were employed when necessary, such as Nigel North and the late Robert Spencer, both highly regarded lutenists. Beginning in 1968 he toured the world, unearthing obscure instruments in every country he visited. He commissioned reconstructions of instruments related to the cornett and rackett from, amongst others, Otto Steinkopf.

In 1970 two television programmes made him a household name - The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Elizabeth R. He was a man of manic energy. In his short life he released over 50 albums, some of which are now available on CD. As well as his recordings with the Early Music Consort, he recorded with Michael Morrow's Musica Reservata, Alfred Deller and the King's Singers. He recorded Bach and Monteverdi many times but his widest influence was in the (then) backwaters of the Gothic and Renaissance period.

His 3-record set with the Early Music Consort The Art of the Netherlands issued in 1976 (EMI SLS5049), was particularly influential in popularising the genre [1]. On BBC Radio 3 he presented "Pied Piper", a multi-ethnic, centuries-spanning spread of music from Monteverdi to ELO. Munrow also had dealings notably with The Young Tradition and Shirley and Dolly Collins. His personal interests were travel, sailing, jazz and antiques. He was also something of a linguist.

In addition he wrote a few articles on music, especially for his own recordings. Munrow hanged himself in 1976; the deaths of his father and father-in-law, to whom he dedicated his last book, are thought to have contributed to his suicide. Arguably, David Munrow did more than anyone else in the second half last century to popularize early music in Great Britain, despite a career lasting barely ten years. Indeed, this is underlined by the fact that the committee which chose the music for the Voyager Golden Record selected one of his recordings to be sent on the Voyager space probes on an interstellar journey. Apart from his regular radio slot and other programmes he also appeared on television, most notably a series entitled Ancestral Voices (BBC2) in a London studio, and Early Musical Instruments (ITV) filmed on location at Ordsall Hall, Salford. By such means, he introduced many people to a whole new world of audio experience. Sadly, these specific programmes were transmitted posthumously. David Munrow left behind him not only his recordings, but also his huge collection of musical instruments.

The Royal Academy of Music has a very large archival collection of his letters, programmes, notes, corrected TV scripts, scores, musical compositions, books etc. which are all accessible to the public. The online catalogue of the National Sound Archives (part of the British Museum) reveals his many recording entries, and those of many other noted people. Information about the life, and work of David Munrow can be found in obituaries about him in 1976 (particularly the OUP journal Early Music), and in the following sources: a detailed piece in the National Biography by Christopher Hogwood; The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians; The Art of David Munrow, a record set with a biography by Arthur Johnson, the producer of Pied Piper, and on the old vinyl sleeve of the Renaissance Suite. Read more on Last.fm.

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