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Primrose International Viola Archive

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This is it, the motherlode.  Tucked away in the university town of Provo, UT, the largest collection of viola music in the world is carefully preserved by a contingent of alto-clef loving individuals.  In their special preservation-specific boxes lie not only this cornucopia of music but also a sizable collection of William Primrose’s own music, notebooks, letters and artifacts.  A fascinating glimpse into the life of a world-famous musician, husband, pilot, and man.


Left, the Wasatch mountains outside PIVA; Viola giants with Sara Bass at the PIVA entrance, right.


After buzzing through the front doors, we are wowed with three of Primrose’s own violas:


Having contacted the wonderful Dr. Claudine Bigelow, Professor of viola at Brigham Young University, we met at our arranged time and were graced with the violas themselves:


David Day and Dr. Claudine Bigelow open the locked display case


A five-string “viola-alta” encompassing the ranges of both the viola and the violin. Built in 1904 by Philipp Keller of Wurzburg, Germany for Hermann Ritter, whose signature is on the upper back. Ritter was the principal violist in Richard Wagner’s Bayreuth Orchestra.


Viola by Pierre Vidoudez, 1951


The group was most impressed with this Vidoudez, an excellent sounding viola with which Primrose recorded.  With the generosity of Dr. Bigelow, we borrowed a bow and played a while on them all:


Sara Bass, left and Ann Roggen coax the Primrose Vidoudez


What a treat!  After this wonderful time with a few violas, we moved into the stacks:



Row upon row of viola music; solos, sonatas, concertos, showpieces, the whole nine yards.  Truly an impressive resource for programming and research of any kind.  In the stacks room are several works of art with a viola thrust: first, a painting by famous violist Emanuel Vardi:


“Homage to a Great Violist” -Emanuel Vardi


Across from this is a corner containing a bust of Professor David Dalton and a painting of several of those viola giants:



After soaking in the immense musical collection housed within these wood-paneled walls we were treated to some of the library’s more special items by curator David Day.  David generously spent a significant amount of time with us during the four days and helped us in every way he could.  Here he is seen with one of these “special item” boxes:


First, a score of Walton’s viola concerto signed by the composer:

Next, the contents of his wallet at the time of his death:


Passports and Pilot’s License


After the first day’s once-over, we had a few more days to delve deeply into the boxes and stacks of this viola heaven.  We uncovered many letters, telegrams and notebooks from Primrose’s days at Indiana University Bloomington; masterclass and private lesson notebooks, letters to other string faculty and music school administration, and telegrams to his wife from far-flung locales.  Here is a notebook containing thoughts from one year’s worth of masterclasses next to a letter of William Primrose’s resignation from the IU music school:


We also saw several pieces of his teacher, Ysaye, among Primrose’s personal items; here is one, a collection of caricatures of Ysaye himself next to a display of Primrose’s pedagogical lineage:

Also of interest, an X-Ray of Primrose’s hands compared with the Japanese block print hanging near the entrance:

Four days of digging yielded much of interest.  David Day and his assistants were at all times courteous and helpful.  We not only perused the largest collection of Viola-centric scores, handled William Primrose’s own personal effects, but also played his own violas!  An amazing time which will never be forgotten.  Thank you Ann Roggen and Marc Rynearson for the wonderful planning to make these days possible!  Before you leave, don’t forget to sign the guestbook:

Noralee Walker signs the guestbook upon exiting the PIVA


For more, including letters between William Primrose and Dean Bain of the IU music school,  Joseph Gingold, his own fingerings for Bartok Concerto, notes from lessons and pages from the PIVA guestbook, visit the Flickr site:


The full PIVA set on Flickr


Dulce’s Ashes: Production Stills »

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