Obituary: Cecile Dolmetsch

Cecile Dolmetsch, musician: born Dorking, Surrey 22 March 1904; married 1925 Leslie Ward (died 1989; one son, two daughters); died Haslemere, Surrey 8 August 1997.
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The Independent Online
Cecile Dolmetsch was the eldest and last surviving of Arnold Dolmetsch's four children by his third wife, Mabel. Her younger brother, Carl, died less than a month before her. Cecile and her siblings were taught in infancy to play the various period instruments in the Dolmetsch collection and joined in the family consort when quite small children. None of them could recall a life without music.

Cecile was the only member of the family who could sing, and in her younger days her small but sweet voice was heard at many Haslemere Festivals. However, her main contribution to the field of early music was through her researching and resuscitation of the rare pardessus de viole and its literature.

She was born in 1904 in Dorking, Surrey, just before the family undertook an American tour and was left with a friend for the duration. Whilst in the United States Arnold accepted an offer from the piano- makers Chickerings of Boston to open a department for making early musical instruments. When he returned to England to settle the family's affairs in July 1904, he took his baby daughter back with him, sailing on the Minnehaha. They were accompanied by a nurse for Cecile and the two and a half fares cost pounds 40.

When the trade recession of 1910 began to cripple manufacture in the US, Dolmetsch decided to leave. The following year he settled with his family at Fontenay-sous-Bois in France, having found a position with Gaveau in Paris to make harpsichords.

Cecile always regarded those three childhood years in France as being a happy time. But Dolmetsch and Gaveau did not always see eye to eye and in 1914 the family was again on the move. This time they returned to London on the eve of the Great War, which must have been a daunting experience for the children who had already lived on two continents.

In 1917, when the air-raids became unbearable, the Dolmetschs moved from their house in Tanza Road, Hampstead, to settle in Haslemere in Surrey and the family has remained in the same house ever since. It was from here that Arnold Dolmetsch launched the first Haslemere Festival in 1925.

That same year Cecile married Leslie C. Ward, one of the craftsmen from her father's workshop; he was also a musician who played the violone in the Festival and in addition, an expert recording engineer, a skill which came in very useful when he organised a series of LPs recording the performances of his wife and her fellow musicians.

Cecile Dolmetsch will be remembered principally for her researches into the pardessus de viole, a descant instrument with a very high range developed in 18th-century France, where it was very popular with amateur musicians. She worked tirelessly to unearth manuscripts and publications in French libraries and gradually managed to build up a repertoire for this little- known member of the viol family. She found solo music by Thomas Marc, Jean Barriere, Caix d'Hervelois and others, and for many years she was the only person to perform in public on this instrument.

Together with other artists she gave annual concerts in London, at first at the Chenil Galleries and later at the Great Drawing Room of the Arts Council in St James's Square where the 18th-century acoustics were perfect for such performances. She also played every year at the Haslemere Festival, her last appearance being at the 66th in 1990 when she used her beautiful Guersan instrument dated 1761.

When her sister Nathalie died in 1989, she succeeded her as president of the Viola da Gamba Society, which they had jointly founded in l948.

Cecile Dolmetsch was teaching right up to her death. She was an inveterate traveller and at the age of 92 took herself on a package tour of the Italian lakes; only a year or so earlier she had been doing some researches in north Africa. She was optimistic by nature and possessed considerable charm of personality.