Duncan Druce      composer and violinist

Duncan Druce

Duncan was a regular tutor at the Lacock Summer School. His Earth, Sun, Moon was commissioned by Lacock  and premiered at the summer school in 2000.

As a notable composer and performer, Duncan Druce is among the rare species of modern musical life. Since the 18th century, when such a combination of skills was quite usual (and earlier still might also have included major expertise as astronomer, poet and mathematician), increasing pressures, both social and economic, to be a master of one skill only has deprived us of artists who have an invaluable broader insight into the mysteries of the world - the artist who can make connections.

True, it has given us this century the most astounding performers apparently ever known. But since hardly any of them can (or dare) compose a note, they are in fact like an excessive cosmetic to music - a superficial glory without any real depth of creative understanding. Provocative as that assertion may be, Duncan Druce is one who might well provide some proof of it. This Cheshire-born composer and real musician has a list of works behind him that may not be of great length but is certainly substantial, well reasoned and very skilfully made. He has taken no great pleasure in frivolous composition, for the nature of the man is serious and thoughtful and he rightly expects that sort of attention from his listeners. He does not like back-ground music and will avoid providing it either as performer or composer.

He has, however, an immense breadth of understanding and tolerant generosity which many generations of his students over the past decade or more will readily affirm. Though there are things in music that he will not do, and even detests, he will defend to the last the right of others to explore and express them.

In 1991 he chose to resign his post as Senior Lecturer at Leeds University's Bretton Hall College, in order to devote time to increasing demands on his freelance work. This happened once before. After he completed his studies at King's College, Cambridge, and a higher degree at Leeds University, he entered the BBC as a music programme producer. During this time he gained much needed confidence as a violinist and viola player, largely because of encouragement from the clarinettist Alan Hacker, now at York University. He came to Hacker's notice first as the violin and viola player in that extraordinary and challenging masterwork of our time, Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire. When soon after those performances Sir Harrison Birtwistle formed his Pierrot Players, named after Schoenberg's piece because the group consisted of the same instrumental forces, Druce was immediately drawn in as an important member.

Later he joined Alexander Goehr's Music Theatre Ensemble and Maxwell Davies's Fires of London, becoming in the late Sixties a performer of contemporary music in great demand, and developing a close inside familiarity with a wide range of important 20th century works. It was not long before he became involved with the contrasting world of early music performance, and became a leading player of the baroque violin and the beautiful old instrument, the viola d'amore. He joined Christopher Hogwood's Academy of Ancient Music, and was one of the original players in the first concerts during the early 1970s of Peter Seymour's Yorkshire Baroque Soloists.

But back in his student days at King's he had discovered another skill. Students were required, among other things, to compose a string quartet movement in the style of Mozart. Druce composed a whole quartet, finding himself naturally quite at home with this old and exquisite language. It was not surprising therefore that his interest was later tempted by fragments of an unfinished clarinet quintet among the Mozart manuscripts, and when Alan Hacker commissioned its completion in 1971, Druce was in his element. This clarinet quintet (K 516c), along with another for clarinet, bassethorn and strings, and a Rondo for horn and orchestra are among the Druce-Mozart reconstructions now available on record. Duncan Druce's major reconstruction to date is that of the Requiem, completed in 1984 and heard most widely a 1991 Promenade Concert. This superb blend of the work of a real scholar and a real composer must be heard many more times before its true ingenuity and. sympathy are fully understood.

At the end of the Promenade Concert, the conductor Roger Norrington brought Duncan Druce forward from his place among the violins of the orchestra to share the tumultuous applause of the packed Albert Hall. With typical modesty afterwards he said to me: "I don't think anyone knew what on earth I was standing there for, but it was an interesting experience!"

Yet another enthusiasm has been that for the music of Eastern Europe, especially the flexibility within the lines and harmonies of Rumanian folk music. More than 30 years ago he was transcribing the folk tunes from recordings and incorporating the idioms into his own music. Typical of his constant enquiry into new musical experience, Druce enrolled for another Master's degree at York University in 1986, devoting his thesis to the music of Southern India. He visited Bombay, and travelled around the area to Bangalore, Mysore and Madras, listening to and collecting the music as he went. Again, a wealth of subtlety in those extraordinary melodies provided inspiration for further compositions.

adapted from an article by Patric Standford in The Yorkshire Post