LYNDESAY LANGWILL -- A PORTRAIT
William Waterhouse
London, England


It is a rare achievement these days to compile a reference book which supplies such a widely felt need that in a comparatively short time it becomes the standard work of reference in its field. Whenever the maker of a wind instrument needs to be identified, the quickest and often indeed the only way to solve the problem is to "look him up in Langwill". In the comparatively recent field of wind instrument studies the Index of Musical Wind Instrument Makers of Lyndesay Langwill, with its alphabetical listing of over 5000 makers has filled what would otherwise be a conspicuous gap in our knowledge, so that Dr. van der Meer of Nurnberg could write that "since its publication hardly a day of my curator's activity has passed without my consulting it". What is even more remarkable is that its author has been not only responsible for compiling the book, but for publishing and distributing it as well. And all this has been only a "hobby" activity in what spare time was left over from the busy life of a professional accountant. He is one of a distinguished line of amateur collectors and enthusiasts who by their researches have made a distinguished contribution to organological studies. Apart from his "Index" he is well known for his work on the bassoon: in fact it has been his lifelong interest in this instrument which caused him to undertake the wider and more daunting task of documenting wind makers in general.

Lyndesay Graham Langwill is a Scot, born in and having lived all his life in Edinburgh, that city sometimes called "the Athens of the North" on account of its superb setting and the quality of its predominantly 18th century architecture. Born as long ago as 1897 the son of an accountant in private practice, on completing his studies he went straight into his father's firm, subsequently taking it over himself. Always a keen amateur musician, he started first on the cello which he played regularly in local amateur orchestras. However he had always taken an interest in the bassoon and in his early thirties acquired a French instrument; he not only became proficient as a player but also started trying to find out as much as he could about the history of the bassoon. The only work he could find on the subject was "der Fagott", the version Wilhelm Heckel had just made in 1931 of his father's earlier little book of 1899. After efforts to have this translated locally had failed, he set to with the aid of a dictionary to teach himself enough of the language to be able to prepare a translation himself. When he had completed it he sent a copy to the author, who responded by inviting him over for a visit. Langwill was able not only to visit the Biebrich factory but also to inspect and photograph the fine collection of antique bassoons housed there. However in spite of a friendship which lasted until Heckel's death in 1952, Langwill has as a player remained faithful to his Buffet bassoon and contra! He subsequently prepared translations into English of other important papers on wind instrument history by Euting, Halbe and many others. He started to assemble an archive of photographs of all the old bassoons in public and private collections then known to him, among them those of Leipzig, Wien, Berlin Nurnberg, Munchen and den Haag. He also collected gradually what is now an almost complete set of museum and sale catalogues as well as other rare reference books, from original editions of Mersenne and Bonanni to scarce works on the bassoon by Abrahame and Almenraeder. His collection of musical instruments includes several early bassoons and an interesting anonymous oboe which reputedly once belonged to Mozart; it formerly belonged to the Wesley family of English musicians.

With the object of making a complete list of all known bassoon makers, he circulated a list of some 40 makers to anyone he thought might be able to add to it. Many of those who responded expressed regret that he was restricting his inquiries to only bassoon makers. It was evident that no directory of wind makers existed, although string makers were well catered for in this respect. Ernst Euting had compiled one as an appendix to his 1899 dissertation "Zur Geschichte der Blasinstrumente" containing 600 makers, but this had never been published. Langwill therefore decided to enlarge the scope of his researches to cover all wind instrument makers and started to assemble the data methodically on a card index. Here his expertise as an accountant in organizing the voluminous material which started to accumulate came in useful. By the end of the war he had made a list of some 1500 makers which he circulated to all his acquaintances. By 1959 the number had reached 3000 and he decided to publish: with a loan from a scholarly foundation he commissioned a local printer to produce a limited edition of 500 copies. For this (and for all subsequent editions) he supervised all the stages of production himself collecting the orders and mailing them off from his own home. The book was so well received everywhere that a second edition was called for two years later; this has been followed by three subsequent revised editions, each bigger and better than the last totaling 4200 copies in all. The Index sets out not only to list makers by name, date and place, but to give the whereabouts of their surviving instruments; useful bibliographies and illustrations are also included. By its nature such a list can never be complete and the author's polite request for corrections and additions has steadily produced a gratifying response. Collectors from all over the world regularly send him in details of their holdings: fellow enthusiasts such as Gunter Hart of Gottingen and Karl Ventzke of Duren as well as professional museum curators have been glad to share their knowledge of local makers.

Meanwhile his research on the bassoon was not being neglected. An abridgment of his Heckel translation was printed in 1940 in the USA by the Journal of Musicology. Apart from a few minor articles, the first opportunity to place his researches before a wider public was the paper he read in 1939 to the Royal Musical Association on "the Bassoon, its Origin and Evolution" followed three years later by a similar one devoted to the Double Bassoon. These formed the basis of his magnum opus The Bassoon and Contrabassoon (London 1965) of 270 pp. which contains all the most significant source material relating to their history, as well as lists of makers and compositions. This book was commissioned by a London publisher for a series of monographs on orchestral instruments and has proved an authoritative work unlikely to be superseded.

In 1965 he widened the scope of his researches when he agreed to help a clergyman friend to write a book documenting the barrel organ used in English churches in the 18th and 19th centuries. When his co-author died shortly afterwards, he not only completed the book but published two successive editions of it himself. In 1946 he was one of the select group of fellow enthusiasts who formed the society named after Canon Galpin, the pioneer of musical instrument studies in Great Britain who had recently died. He acted as honorary Treasurer of the Society until 1968. In 1968 he contributed articles on BASSOON and associated topics to the 5th edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

However these achievements do not represent the total of his interests and activities; he has long taken an active interest in animals, having been secretary and treasurer of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals from 1924 until 1967. He is a vice President of the "Welt Federation fur Tierschutz" based in Zurich, having served as President for two years. For these services to animal welfare he received the Order of the British Empire (OBE - englischer Ehrentitel). In 1964 Edinburgh University conferred on him an honorary Master of Arts Degree for his achievements in musical research.

Although he officially retired from his professional practice in 1967, he has still kept on a few private clients. His private life has not been without sadness: his only son was killed on active service during the war. After being married for 53 years he lost his first wife, he remarried in 1977 but sadly his second wife died only eighteen months afterwards. However at an age when most would be expected to quietly vegetate, Lyndesay Langwill still remains active. In 1978 he visited the USA for the first time to read a paper to the American Musical Instrument Society at Yale. He still plays bassoon and contra for local amateur groups. Most important of all, he is currently preparing yet another edition of the Index, having sold out all the copies of the last edition. This 6th edition, enlarged to 340 pp., for which Dr. Dieter Krickeberg of the Berlin Museum has written an enthusiastic foreword, will incorporate the many additions and corrections which he continues to receive from all over the world. The deadline (Redaktionsschluss) for this new edition is Easter 1980 and a prospectus soliciting orders is about to be sent out. The varied tasks concerned with seeing this volume through the press and getting the copies to his subscribers will certainly keep him happily occupied for what his many friends will hope to be many years to come!


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