Primrose Places & People

Clan Primrose People

William Primrose

William Primrose (1904 – 1982)
Scottish violist and teacher, probably the best known viola player of his time. Primrose was born in Glasgow and studied violin there and, later, at the then Guildhall School of Music in London. From there he moved to Belgium to study under Eugène Ysaÿe who encouraged him to take up the viola instead. In 1930, he joined Warwick Evans, John Pennington, and Thomas Petre as the violist in the London String Quartet. The group dissolved in 1935. In 1937, he began playing in the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini. When it was rumored that Toscanini would leave the Symphony in 1941, Primrose resigned. His career as a soloist took off when he started touring with Richard Crooks. He later signed with Arthur Judson, an influential concert manager. In 1944 he commissioned a viola concerto from Béla Bartók.

Primrose was known for his tremendous technique. When he performed Paganini’s violin caprices on viola, Mischa Elman is said to have exclaimed, “It must be easier on viola!” Primrose wrote many transcriptions and arrangements for viola, often technically dazzling, including “La Campanella” (from Paganini’s second violin concerto) and the famous Nocturne from Borodin’s second string quartet, the latter “out of jealousy” for the cello’s long melodic lines.

Later in his life, Primrose became a noted teacher, writing several books on viola playing and teaching widely Japan and in the USA, occasionally at The Juilliard School, Eastman School of Music and the Curtis Institute of Music. In 1972, he published his memoirs, A Walk on the North Side.

William Primrose died from cancer in Provo, Utah in 1982.