A Dolmetsch box

Down a rabbit hole….

What are the chances of this: stumbling on this Ebay scraper page by accident, and discovering that two entries for recorders have the same bizarre notation.  They have both been edited on Ebay too, so something happened.

Vintage carved wooden recorder. Good tone. I found it in a Dolmetsch box. But I have doubts that it is actually a Dolmetsch. Based on the gentleman that once owned it, I’d estimate it’s age somewhere between 50 and 70 years. Appears in good condition with some wear evident around the mouthpiece.

On the page itself you can find links to Ebay sales for everything from a 24 carat gold flute mouthpiece for $4,695.00 to an entire gold flute for around 15 grand.  And all of these fancy flutes come from …the Netherlands!!!


Imagine that, the Dutch streets are paved with golden flutes, but they don’t have a pot to piss in. (see “wildplassen” hashtag) Peter Paul Ekker, a spokesperson for the deputy mayor: “Obviously it should be equal and everyone will agree it can be done better, but what are the costs, is there space, and is it worth it?” Is it worth it, heh.  Business as usual, in the gold-flute-lined streets of Amsterdam.  And still no Wikipedia article for this, or Geerte Piening, although they did add Zeikwijf to the Plaskrul article.

Not everything comes from the Netherlands of course, you can order an antique “H.F.Meyer Hannover” flute from Boise for a mere $625.  I kind of like it.

But back to the “Dolmetsch box”.

The thing looks kind of creepy, no?  It says it is made of wood, but it looks like bone.  Sort of like a femur, actually.

But this is a red herring, the Dolmetsch box was never about this, it was only there to send us down this Dolmetsch rabbit hole.

Dolmetsch (Eugène Arnold Dolmetsch,  1858 – 1940) was an instrument maker from Haselmere, south west of London.  Wikipedia has little interesting informaton about him, other than the names of his female relatives.

Moving on to an article in the Guardian, Arnold Dolmetsch had a reputation for being a sandals-and-beard sort of dude who looked like a druid, for being part of the arts and crafts movement, and for his instruments being recommended by George Bernard Shaw – there are numerous anecdotes about him with literary figures of the day (see this blog).

But most of all, Dolmetsch is credited with reviving the recorder as an instrument.  I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, or if the recorder even qualifies as a musical instrument, but it is entirely true that there are a lot of them out there, and that children are sometimes encouraged to try them, and that his name was stamped on them. So this is all his fault. His family dynasty also maintains a legendary music website https://www.dolmetsch.com/ that uses Sibelius Scorch to access.

According to Wikipedia, “His 1915 book The Interpretation of the Music of the XVIIth and XVIIIth Centuries was a milestone in the development of ‘authentic performances‘ of early music. ”  The book is a red link of course, but it is all over. Internet Archive has it. There are others. You can buy used copies, some more cheaply than others, and with a multitude of different covers. The book had all the great gossip about performance practice, for example, what did Mozart think of a particular type of ornamentation.

But where are the women?

After wading through three ex-wives and and some offspring, we find his daughter, Cecile Dolmetsch was a viol player, and his third wife Mabel Johnston /Mabel Dolmetsch was a noted player of the bass viol, as well as an author who wrote Dances of England and France 1450 – 1600, published by Routledge and Paul, 1949.

This must be the daughter in this 1928 video. Or maybe the other daughter Nathalie Dolmetsch, who became a leading member of the Viola da Gamba Society (red link). Full story of the video here.

Mabel Dolmetsch

Mabel Dolmetsch (1874–1963), was Arnold’s third wife, 16 years his junior, who had started taking violin lessons from him in 1896 and, within a year, had become part of the concert-giving “family”, mostly performing on the violone or the viola da gamba. At the same time, she worked as Arnold’s instrument-building assistant, as she’d been learning wood-working, on the quiet.

Mabel Dolmetsch’s most well-known book,  Dances of England and France 1450 – 1600, is not available, even in google books snippet view, although someone has obviously scanned it, so don’t bother to try to quote it for Wikipedia. There are plenty of used copies on 4mazon though. (Not gonna link, they will spam me with ads.)

She also wrote a few other books, including a memoir about her famous husband.

Personal and family life

Mabel Johnston /Mabel Dolmetsch was born the thirteenth child in a family of fourteen. Her brother was Harry Johnston (Wikipedia blue link). Thanks to her brother’s Wikipedia article, we know that her parents were John Brookes Johnstone, a Scottish insurance broker, and Esther Laetitia Hamilton, background and occupation unknown. She had four children with Arnold Dolmetsch: Cecile Dolmetsch (obit), Nathalie Dolmetsch (The Viola Da Gamba), Rudolph Dolmetsch (online) (national portrait gallery) , Carl Dolmetsch (bio) (obit)

Some sources

There is a family tree here with some biographical data: Dolmetsch history page: https://www.dolmetsch.com/historypage.htm

In French: https://www.dolmetsch.com/Dolworksfrench.htm https://data.bnf.fr/en/14857582/mabel_dolmetsch/

In German: https://www.sophie-drinker-institut.de/dolmetsch-familie

List of ref: https://www.dolmetsch.com/historypage.htm

Mabel Johnston’s recordings in connection with her work with the revival of the Irish harp may be historically interesting, but they are scratchy and hard to listen to.

Here is harpist Alisa Sadikova. (If you can’t open it, copy/paste to a new address bar)

And if you would like an encore, a Mozart concerto for harp and flute.

2 thoughts on “A Dolmetsch box

  1. Oh look, Rogol is back.

    Or is it Renee?

    Or Jennifer?

    In the last week Rogol has accessed this site no less than 88 times, not counting three visits via Tor node. That makes him my most devoted fan evah. I wonder if he knows his setup is spoofing Windows 7. That one gave me a good giggle.

    The marriage thing above is a reference to some American blacksploitation film, he has explained it on some archived thread somewhere, so it looks like he is not just impersonating women any more, he is doing racial impersonations. Unless he actually IS black.

    And now he will go back to wikirev(DOT) org and brag about it, and try to impress their autistic readership.

    It’s kind of sad really, he claims to be an expert in some undeclared academic field, and he goes around the interwebs embarrassing himself. Maybe I should just keep deleting his posts. There but for the grace of God go I, &c. &c.

    There is a cautionary tale in here somewhere about what watching American television will do to you.

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