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Cries of London: A David Munrow Retrospective

Some people leave an indelible mark on their profession. This week’s edition of Harmonia is dedicated to just such a person: David Munrow.

David Munrow playing the pipe and tabor.

Some people leave an indelible mark on their profession. This can be true even if their particular star blazes very quickly across the sky. This week’s edition of Harmonia is dedicated to just such a person: David Munrow. In addition to his extensive work with the Early Music Consort of London, Munrow taught, composed original music, and introduced a whole generation of young people to the joys of early music, as the presenter of BBC Radio 3’s Pied Piper. Now, forty years after Munrow’s sudden death at the age of 33, we’re looking back at his legacy.


We’ll start with a canzona by Giovanni Priuli, performed by the Early Music Consort of London, under the direction of David Munrow, from their 1977 recording Monteverdi’s Contemporaries.

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David Munrow was a pioneer in the truest sense of the word. The recordings he made with the Early Music Consort of London are now considered classics. In addition to his work with his own group, Munrow taught at Leicester University and the Royal Academy of Music, wrote movie soundtracks, and hosted six-hundred fifty-five editions of the early music radio show Pied Piper for the BBC. His facility on early wind instruments and his encyclopedic knowledge of early music were also put to use in a variety of wonderful pedagogical recordings.

Now, forty years after Munrow’s sudden death at the age of 33, we’re taking a look back at his legacy with tenor Paul Elliott, who, in addition to his work with the Deller Consort, the Hilliard Ensemble, and Theater of Voices, also worked with David Munrow on several of the recordings made by the Early Music Consort of London.

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16th century dances by Giorgio Mainerio, from a recording called Monteverdi’s Contemporaries, recorded by David Munrow and the Early Music Consort of London for EMI in 1975.

David Munrow’s influence in the public sphere grew exponentially with the debut of his radio program, Pied Piper. Munrow had a remarkable ability to impart historical information about early music and early instruments in an engaging way that fired the imaginations of his listeners and made them want to know more. One of his last projects was an ambitious double-record set called Instruments of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It was released in conjunction with a fully-illustrated book containing extensive information about each instrument. One could read the book, and listen along to the dozens of examples on the recording. Here’s an example from that recording. We are being shown how the opening Toccata from Monteverdi’s Orfeo sounds with a group of natural trumpets, sackbuts, and kettledrums, in its original key of C; and then, how the same piece might have sounded if played on the same instruments, only using mutes this time, and raising the key a whole tone to D major.


So far, we’ve heard mostly instrumental music, but many of Munrow’s recordings contained vocal music as well.

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“Intemerata Dei Mater,” a motet by Johannes Ockeghem, performed by the Early Music Consort of London, from a recording called The Art of the Netherlands, recorded in 1975.


David Munrow passed away very suddenly on May 15th, 1976, at the age of 33. His unexpected and tragic death was a shock, even to his closest friends, and it brought an abrupt end to a flourishing career. Forty years later, we’re taking a look back at his legacy, with tenor Paul Elliott.

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We heard “Nesciens mater virgo virum,” a motet by Jean Mouton, performed by the Early Music Consort of London, under the direction of David Munrow.

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That was 2-part organum from the twelfth century, Leonin’s setting of the text “Viderunt omnes,” performed by the Early Music Consort of London.

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We heard “Du tout plongiet,” a piece by Antoine Brumel, all about the sorrows of death and parting, from the recording, The Art of the Netherlands.


Our featured release this week is one from the archives, David Munrow’s massive anthology Music of the Gothic Era, recorded in 1975 in London, and released the following year. Our guest, tenor Paul Elliott, was featured on that recording, as a member of the Early Music Consort of London. To him, it still stands as one of Munrow’s greatest accomplishments.

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We heard music from the recording Music of the Gothic Era, performed by the Early Music Consort of London, under the direction of David Munrow.


 Break and theme music

:30, The Art of the Netherlands, Early Music Consort of London, David Munrow, EMI Classics 1992, D. 1, Tr. 23 Comme Femme Desconfortée (excerpt of 2:33)

:60, The Art of the Netherlands, Early Music Consort of London, David Munrow, EMI Classics 1992, D. 1, Tr. 21 Ain Niederlandisch Runden Danz (excerpt of 1:05)

:30, The Art of the Netherlands, Early Music Consort of London, David Munrow, EMI Classics 1992, D. 1, Tr. 20 A La Audienche (excerpt of 2:31)

Theme: Danse Royale, Ensemble Alcatraz, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 1992 B000005J0B, T.12: La Prime Estampie Royal

The writer for this edition of Harmonia is Elizabeth Clark.

Learn more about recent early music CDs on the Harmonia Early Music Podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes or at harmonia early music dot org.

Elizabeth Clark

Elizabeth Clark Elizabeth Clark splits her time between Bloomington, where she works for WFIU, and Columbus, where she teaches piano and directs the choir at First Lutheran Church. At WFIU, she writes for and produces Harmonia. She holds degrees in organ and harpsichord from St. Olaf College and Indiana University.

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