David John Munrow (12 August 1942 – 15 May 1976) was a British musician and early music historian.
Munrow was born in Birmingham where both his parents taught at the University of Birmingham. His mother, Hilda Ivy (née Norman) Munrow (1905-1985), was a dance teacher and his father, Albert Davis “Dave” Munrow (1908-1975), was a lecturer and physical education instructor who wrote a book on the subject.
Munrow attended King Edward’s School until 1960. He excelled academically and was noted for his treble voice. He was lent a bassoon and returned in about a fortnight, able to play it remarkably well.
Munrow’s career was inspired by the loan of a crumhorn in 1961
In 1960, Munrow took a gap year and went to Peru to teach English at Markham College in Lima under the British Council student teacher scheme. He reached Lima by train from São Paulo and later spent some time touring Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Chile, immersing himself in the traditional music of Latin America and collecting folk instruments. He returned home to Britain with a number of Bolivian flutes and other obscure instruments.
While reading English for his master’s degree at Pembroke College, Cambridge, he became involved in musical performance, playing South American instruments in a students’ autumn-term concert organised by Christopher Hogwood. A professor of music, Thurston Dart, was intrigued by Munrow’s performance and encouraged him to explore links between Latin American folk instruments and early European instruments. While visiting Dart’s study, Munrow noticed a crumhorn hanging on the wall; Dart suggested he borrow it and this eventually inspired Munrow to commence an independent study of early musical instruments.
Starting from his ability as a pianist, singer and bassoonist, Munrow taught himself to play many older 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 and controlled expression contrasts with the greater tonal flexibility of the Continental style espoused by the Dutch recorder player Frans Brüggen and others.
By 1967 he was appointed a lecturer in early music at the University of Leicester, having married Gillian Veronica Reid the previous year. With Christopher Hogwood he formed the Early Music Consort, whose core members were experts on their particular instruments. Sometimes other professional musicians were employed when necessary, such as Nigel North and Robert Spencer, both highly regarded lutenists. From 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. Two television programmes made him a household name: The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970) and Elizabeth R (1971). He also scored the feature film adaptation of the former, Henry VIII and His Six Wives, in 1972.
The early music revival was born following Munrow’s success with his soundtrack for The Six Wives of Henry VIII, which contained authentic music played on original instruments, and generated worldwide enthusiasm for music and instruments from the renaissance period. Subsequently, demand for such historical instruments increased dramatically, resulting in Munrow’s encouragement for the formation of a business specialising in this area, which is still trading as The Early Music Shop, based in Saltaire, West Yorkshire. Munrow was a loyal and enthusiastic customer of the Early Music Shop, having helped the founder, Richard Wood, create the business’s name, and travelling immediately to the music store to be re-equipped with a variety of historical instruments after losing his entire collection in a theft.
Munrow’s two contributions to film music were for British directors:
Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971). Munrow’s contribution included numbers from Terpsichore, Michael Praetorius’s collection of French dance music. It complemented an original score by Peter Maxwell Davies.
Zardoz (1974), written and directed by John Boorman. This included arrangements of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 for early music instruments.
During his relatively short life, Munrow released over 50 records, some of which are now available on CD. In addition to 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 Medieval and Renaissance periods. His three-record set with the Early Music Consort, The Art of the Netherlands, issued in 1976 (EMI SLS5049), was particularly influential in popularising the genre.
On BBC Radio 3 he presented Pied Piper, a multi-ethnic and centuries-spanning spread of music from Monteverdi to the Electric Light Orchestra rock group. Munrow also had dealings notably with the Young Tradition and Shirley and Dolly Collins.
Apart from his regular radio slot and other programmes, he appeared on television, most notably on BBC 2 in a series entitled Ancestral Voices in a London studio, and on ITV’s Early Musical Instruments, filmed on location at Ordsall Hall in Salford. He also wrote one book entitled Instruments of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. This originally accompanied a record set of the same name.
Munrow’s personal interests were travel, sailing, jazz and antiques. He was also a linguist. In addition, he wrote some articles on music, especially for his own recordings.
In 1976, Munrow hanged himself while in a state of depression; the recent deaths of his father and father-in-law, to whom he dedicated his sole book, are thought to have contributed to his decision to take his own life. He had, however, attempted suicide by drug overdose the previous year.
His death was noted to be a tragic loss to the early music movement, as no-one sufficiently followed in his footsteps.
The original line-up of the Early Music Consort: Christopher Hogwood, David Munrow, James Tyler, Oliver Brookes and James Bowman:
Munrow perhaps did more than anyone else in the second half of the 20th century to popularise early music in Britain, despite a career lasting barely 10 years. This was underscored when NASA’s Voyager space probe committee selected one of his Early Music Consort recordings for the Voyager Golden Record, a gold-plated copper record that was to be sent into space. “The Fairie Round” from Paueans, Galliards, Almains and Other Short Aeirs by Anthony Holborne was included among a compilation of sounds and images which had been chosen as examples of the diversity of life and culture on Earth. Two discs were launched into space in 1977, the year after Munrow’s death.
Munrow left behind him not only his recordings but a large collection of musical instruments. The Munrow Archive at the Royal Academy of Music holds a collection of his letters, papers, TV scripts, scores, musical compositions and books. The collection is accessible to the public. The online catalogue of the British Library Sound Archive reveals his many recording entries, and those of many other notable 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 Oxford Dictionary of 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. (wikipedia)
Garklein Flötlein, Kortholt, Rauschpfeife, Nicolo Shawm, Basset Rackett, Crumhorn, and Gemshorn…
these are just some of the fascinating instruments whose sounds you will hear on this recording.
David Munrow begins by introducing them one by one, with a spoken explanation followed by a demonstration. Then hear these instruments played together in three varied programs: Music at the Court of King Henry VIII, Elizabethan Popular Tunes, and a Suite of Renaissance Dances. Before his untimely death David Munrow pioneered and was to become the acknowledged master of medieval instruments, performing on television, film, and making further recordings.
“This recording is an attempt to illustrate the astonishing range and variety of woodwind instruments before 1600. To regard these instruments as primitive, as mere forerunners of their modern counterparts, is a vast delusion. The end of the sixteenth century represents a culmination of over 500 years of artistry and industry in making and developing musical instruments in Europe. All their families of instruments possessed remarkably individual timbres, and the professional musicians who played them were highly skilled; there is plenty of testimony to their accomplished technique, prodigious feats of improvisation and surprising versatility. After 1600, some of these exotic instruments disappeared. Others were transformed; the shawm was refined into the oboe, the dulcian into the bassoon”. David Munrow
In these instruments and these tunes lie the foundations of the baroque. (baroquemusic.org)
David Munrow (all woodwind instruments)
Christopher Hogwood (regal harpsichord)
Gillian Reid (percussion)
David Munrow introduces early woodwind instruments:
01. Danse Royale – French 13 Century 0.52
02. Dance Tune – Scottish c. 1250 1.39
03. Motet ‘Vertias Arpie” – French Before 1316 0.51
04. Gymel ‘Jesu Cristes Milde Moder’ – English c. 1270 1.38
05. Carol ‘Nowell Sing We’ – English 15th Century 3.01
06. Piper’s Fancy – English Traditional 1.32
07. Ballade ‘Ja Nuns Hons Pris’ (Coeur-de-Lion) 1.37
08. Saltarello – Italian 14th Century 1.59
09. Postillon – 16th Century 1.46
10. Alarm – 16th/17th Century 1.36
11. Wat Zal Men Op Den Avond Doen’ – 16th Century 0.13
12. Bicinium ‘Je Nose Etre Content’ (Certon) 0.53
13. ‘Wat Zal Men Op Den Avond Doen’ – 17th Century 1.31
14. Pavana ‘Desiderata’ (Benusi) 1.07
Band One: Music at Henry VIII’s Court:
15. Helas Madame (Henry VIII) 1.33
16. Si Fortune 1.20
17. Consort 1.06
18. Taunder Naken (Henry VIII) 2.22
19. If Love Now Reigned (Henry VIII) 0.27
20. En Vray Amoure (Henry VIII) 1.23
Band Two: Elizabethan Popular Tunes:
21. La Volta 1.55
22. Kemp’s Jig 1.41
23. Tower Hill 1.35
24. A Bergomask 1.04
25. Bouffons 2.01
Band Three: Suite of Renaissance dances:
26. Ungarescha (from “Il Primo Libro De Balli”) (Mainerio) 1.57
27. La Bouree (from “Terpsichore”) (Praetorius) 1.33
28. Basse Danse (‘Bergeret Sans Roch’ from the “Danserye”) (Susato) 1.31
29. Ronde ‘Mon Amy’ (from the ‘Danserye’) (Susato) 1.22
30. Galliard ‘La Rocha El Fuso’ 1.08
31. Ballets Des Baccanales Et Des Feus (from ‘Terpsichore’) (Praetorius) 0.51