Jeremy Montagu: Biography

Jeremy with Wijne recorderI was brought up as a horn player, trained as a conductor, and became professionally a percussion player. Guildhall School of Music 'First orchestra' had a surplus of horns but a dearth of percussion: "Playing percussion would be so good for your rhythm as a conductor". And so I was the first person to play under a conductor in the Royal Festival Hall, 'rolling up the King', as the preface to the national anthem was then called, in the first orchestral acoustic test.


I formed my own professional orchestra, the Montagu String Orchestra, giving many first performances through the early 1950s and performing baroque and early classical works as 'authentically' as one could in those days - there were no early fiddles around then, but we used harpsichord and lute continuo, added ornaments and altered rhythms. Once the children had to be fed, the orchestra had to go and the last performance was in 1956 as part of the celebrations for the 300th anniversary of the Jewish Resettlement in Britain.


I realised that the horn I was playing was not the instrument for which Mozart and Beethoven had written, and I bought my first handhorn in 1951 (in Wisbech where it had been ordered in 1870 and never collected) while I was working as orchestral factotum for Boyd Neel. I joined the Galpin Society, and later became its Secretary (1965-71), and through contact there with Michael Morrow I became the percussion player in his then new mediæval ensemble, Musica Reservata, and 'invented' early percussion - I was the first person to make reconstructions of the instruments shown in mediæval manuscripts and church carvings. I published the technology, initially in Early Music and the Galpin Society Journal, and then as a book, Making Early Percussion Instruments, and described the playing-style in my half of James Blades (my percussion teacher) & Jeremy Montagu Early Percussion Instruments (1976).


I played percussion with most of the major London orchestras (including the Royal Philharmonic with Beecham) and in most BBC orchestras and in many other provincial ones, and timpani and percussion in chamber orchestras in both 'normal' and 'early' performances. I recently wrote a major history of those instruments as Timpani & Percussion (2002).


I worked for a year at the Horniman Museum in 1960 as curator of musical instruments and there became interested in instruments from the rest of the world and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute and secretary of its Ethnomusicology Panel (1963-mid-1970s).


I began lecturing and teaching on musical instruments of the world and built up a major collection of instruments, world-wide and all periods from prehistoric to the present, for research and to illustrate those lectures. I taught for Thurston Dart at King's College and for Stanley Glasser at Goldsmith's College, both London University (1968-81), and for John Blacking at Queen's University of Belfast. I mounted exhibitions of instruments at Sheffield University (1967) and Durham. I was visiting professor at Grinnell College, Iowa (1970-71) and while in America I lectured at many other universities. I acted as External Examiner for London Guildhall University in musical instrument-making and research, and for PhD theses at numerous universities.


I published a series of books on European instruments, The World of Medieval & Renaissance Musical Instruments (1976), The World of Baroque & Classical Musical Instruments (1979), The World of Romantic & Modern Musical Instruments (1981), all now out of print (and the rights are available for republication!).


From 1975 to 2000 I was Secretary of FoMRHI, the Fellowship of Makers and Researchers of Historical Musical Instruments, whose Quarterly, edited by Ephraim Segerman, was influential far beyond its size and cost, but which, after we retired, has tragically been allowed to lapse by our successors.


I was appointed curator of the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments and lecturer in the University of Oxford (1981-95) where some ten percent of my personal collection is on loan, and I am now Chairman of its Friends. While there I instigated a major series of measured drawings of many of the instruments and some recordings on CDs, and I wrote numerous guides, handbooks, and catalogues, most of which are still available from the Bate. I also wrote two small books illustrated from the Collection, The Flute and The Horn (1990).


I was advisor (consultancy) on musical instruments to the National Museum of Wales (1990) and to the University of Cambridge Faculty of Music (1995). Also to several other museums and The National Art Collections Fund (I am a member of their Advisory Panel), The National Heritage Memorial Fund, and occasionally to other bodies such as the Leverhulme Foundation.


Retirement provided the time to write on a larger scale, first with my late wife, Gwen, Minstrels & Angels (1998), then a catalogue of the Reed Instruments in my own collection (2001), followed, on the strength of my knowledge of Hebrew texts and of ethnomusicology, by Musical Instruments of the Bible (2002), and most recently by Timpani & Percussion (2002), with more books and further catalogues on the stocks. See the Book Page for details of all these.


Articles, conference papers, exhibition catalogues, chapters in part-books, and reviews are too numerous to list in full, but a selection is listed on the Articles Page. Many appeared in the Galpin Society Journal and in Early Music, from the second issue onwards, including four on mediæval iconography of musical instruments: 'Beverley Minster Reconsidered' (1978), 'The Restored Chapter House Wall Paintings in Westminster Abbey' (1988), 'The Crozier of William of Wykeham' (2002), and 'The Macclesfield Psalter' (2006). Some of those that appeared in FoMRHI Quarterly, plus a brief history of FoMRHI itself, are available as downloads here. Notable were all the musical instrument entries in the Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Arts and in the most recent edition (ed. Latham) of the Oxford Companion to Music, and as consulting editor, the Microsoft CD-ROM Musical Instruments.


I was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London (1987) and a Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford, where I edited its Gazette for a dozen years, and where I am now an Emeritus Fellow. I served as President of the European Seminar in Ethnomusicology (ESEM) (1994-96). I was elected President of the Thames Valley Early Music Forum on its foundation. In 1991 I was elected a Vice-President of the Galpin Society, and its President in 2006. I was elected an Honorary Life Member of the National Early Music Association (NEMA). I was awarded the Anthony Baines Prize by the Galpin Society in 2004.


Non-musical interests include active membership now of the Oxford Jewish Congregation and involvement with a number of inter-faith and inter-communal organisations in Oxford. In London I was President of the West Central Synagogue and was esteemed as a shofar blower, which is why the Horniman Museum asked me to demonstrate its technique in a series of photographs.

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