Primrose, William

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1904-08-23
Death 1982-05-01
Britons
English

Biographical notes:

William Primrose (1904-1982) was a professional violist who performed with groups in England and the United States, and later taught at several universities, including Brigham Young University.

John Primrose, William's father, taught violin and gave William his start when he was four years old. By age twelve he had made public appearances. When William was about fifteen, the family moved to London where Primrose attended the Guildhall School of Music and began to study violin under Max Mossel and received a gold medal, the Guildhall's highest honor, at his 1924 graduation. He then went on to study with Eugene Ysaÿe who encouraged him to switch to the viola which Primrose did in 1930. He became the violist of the London String Quartet where he worked with Warwick Evans.

William was invited to play viola as a member of the NBC Symphony orchestra under Arturo Toscanini but was never the symphony's principal violist. During his tenure with NBC, Primrose made several appearances with the symphony as a viola soloist, and in 1939 he formed the Primrose Quartet. In 1953, in recognition of his musical achievements, Primrose was granted the title of Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.

Besides enjoying a solo career, Primrose taught at the University of Southern California, Indiana University, Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music, the Toho School, Juilliard, the Eastman School of Music, and Brigham Young University. Primrose also wrote or contributed to four important pedagogical publications: Art and Practice of Scale Playing (Mills, 1954), Technique Is Memory (Oxford University Press, 1960), Violin and Viola (with Yehudi Menuhin and Denis Stevens; Schirmer, 1976), and Playing the Viola (Oxford University Press, 1988).

Primrose was diagnosed with cancer in 1977 and died from it in 1982 in Provo, Utah.

From the guide to the William Primrose papers, 1904-1980, (L. Tom Perry Special Collections)

William Primrose (1904-1982) was a professional violist who performed with groups in England and the United States, and later taught at several universities, including Brigham Young University.

John Primrose, William's father, taught violin and gave William his start when he was four years old. By age twelve he had made public appearances. When William was about fifteen, the family moved to London where Primrose attended the Guildhall School of Music and began to study violin under Max Mossel and received a gold medal, the Guildhall's highest honor, at his 1924 graduation. He then went on to study with Eugene Ysaÿe who encouraged him to switch to the viola which Primrose did in 1930. He became the violist of the London String Quartet where he worked with Warwick Evans.

William was invited to play viola as a member of the NBC Symphony orchestra under Arturo Toscanini but was never the symphony's principal violist. During his tenure with NBC, Primrose made several appearances with the symphony as a viola soloist, and in 1939 he formed the Primrose Quartet. In 1953, in recognition of his musical achievements, Primrose was granted the title of Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.

Besides enjoying a solo career, Primrose taught at the University of Southern California, Indiana University, Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music, the Toho School, Juilliard, the Eastman School of Music, and Brigham Young University. Primrose also wrote or contributed to four important pedagogical publications: Art and Practice of Scale Playing (Mills, 1954), Technique Is Memory (Oxford University Press, 1960), Violin and Viola (with Yehudi Menuhin and Denis Stevens; Schirmer, 1976), and Playing the Viola (Oxford University Press, 1988).

Primrose was diagnosed with cancer in 1977 and died from it in 1982 in Provo, Utah.

The London String Quartet was a string quartet founded in London in 1908 which remained one of the leading English chamber groups into the 1930s, and made several well-known recordings.

The members of the London String Quartet were: first violin: Albert Sammons (1908-1917), James Levey (1917-1927), and John Pennington (1927-1934); second violin: Thomas W. Petre (1908-1916, 1919-1934), H. Wynne Reeves (1916), Edwin Virgo (1917-1918), Herbert Kinsey (1918); viola: Harry Waldo Warner (1908-1930), Philip Sainton (1929), William Primrose (1930-1934); cello: Charles Warwick Evans (1908-1934).

Harry Waldo Warner (1874–1945) was a viola player and composer who had trained at the London Guildhall School of Music under Alfred Gibson and Orlando Morgan. Charles Warwick Evans (1885-1974) studied at the Royal College of Music for six years before becoming principal cello in the Beecham Opera Company. In 1908 he was leading cello in the Queen's Hall Orchestra. Warwick Evans formed the idea of a string quartet worked up to the standard of a solo virtuoso, and approached Waldo Warner. He left his position in the Queen's Hall Orchestra to devote himself to the String Quartet. They then enlisted Thomas W. Petre and Albert Sammons, the new Concertmaster of Thomas Beecham's orchestra, to lead the quartet.

After two years of rehearsing, they gave their first concert on January 26, 1910, at Bechstein (Wigmore) Hall, playing Dohnanyi in D flat, Tchaikovsky in D, and a composition of Waldo Warner's entitled Fantasy Quartet (No. i). The second concert was in June 1910, of Debussy in G minor, Beethoven Op. 59 no. 1, and a Fantasy of Balfour Gardiner's. Warwick Evans suggested the name 'London String Quartet' and in 1911 it was adopted. When war broke out in 1914, Warwick Evans and Waldo Warner were unable to serve. Petre served in France and his place was taken successively by Wynne Reeves, Herbert Kinsey, and Edwin Virgo. At the same time, Albert Sammons was building a solo career and had less time for essential rehearsals. In May 1915 the quartet began to give chamber music 'Pops,' much liked in wartime London. By May 1917 they had given 50, and around July 1917, Sammons left and was replaced by James Levey. They gave the 117th and last of these concerts on July 14, 1919. In September 1920 they were introduced to America by Mrs. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge at Pittsburgh, playing Frank Bridge's E minor (Bologna) Quartet, Beethoven in E minor, and Waldo Warner's Folk-song Fantasy. In addition to a great number of concerts in London and England they undertook many international tours, notably to America, France, Portugal, Spain (twice), Scandinavia (thrice), Germany, and Canada. From November 1922 to April 1924 they conducted a world tour.

William Primrose became the violist of the London String Quartet in March 1930. Besides providing Primrose with a successful and rewarding beginning to his viola career, Primrose's membership in the London String Quartet benefitted him in a number of other ways, including his first exposure to international audiences. Perhaps most important for Primrose was his relationship with Warwick Evans, the cellist, founder, and leader of the quartet. Under Evans' expert guidance, the London String Quartet toured successfully in North and South America until the Depression threatened the quartet with financial disaster. By 1935 the group decided to disband, as Primrose put it, "while we were still on top."

From the guide to the William Primrose London String Quartet scores, 1928-1965, (L. Tom Perry Special Collections)

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Subjects:

  • Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences
  • Letters
  • Music
  • Viola
  • Viola music--Scores and parts
  • Violist

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