Burntwood Family History Group
   Home      P 075

 

Howard T DAVIS
 
Howard T DAVIS was born Bridgetown, Staffordshire on the 9th April 1940. He was one of two children, the son of a cobbler.
 
His father was a passionate music lover who consistently listened to records and live concerts on the radio. Howard listened with his father and became interested in music.
 
Whilst aged nine and at school, a violin came into his hands and through a state-subsidised scheme, and he found his voice and companion for life. His natural ability was quickly recognised, and he was sent to Birmingham for music lessons. There he was able to play a good violin, which his parents would never have been able to afford. He had a weekly lesson with Ernest ELEMENT, a fine quartet leader, a down to earth person, and a stickler for hard work. Another student at the time who learned to play was Benjamin LOWE.
 
In 1951, aged eleven, he moved up to Rugeley Grammar School and continued with his music.
 
Howard was also a keen photographer and artist, and the weekly trips to Birmingham afforded him the opportunity to visit the city’s art gallery. He showed prodigious ability as a water colour artist, although he modestly referred to his paintings as "daubs".
 
In 1958, aged eighteen, hard work and talent took Howard to the Royal Academy of Music in London. His teachers there included Sydney HUMPHREYS and Frederick GRINKE, and Sidney GRILLER. He studied there until 1963.
 
In 1961, whilst still at the Royal Academy of Music, Howard and three other students formed a string quartet, which they named the Alberni Quartet after the Canadian birthplace of the original leader, Dennis SIMONS. Howard initially played as second violin. The string quartet was extremely fortunate that the ensemble’s foundation coincided with he return from North America of Sidney GRILLER, the founder of the Griller Qartet, and he became their mentor.
 
Whilst studying at the Royal Academy of Music, he met fellow student Virginia BLACK. Virginia in time to come would become Howard’s future wife.
 
The quartet was invited by the town council of Harlow, Essex to be their quartet in residence. As none of the quartet had any connection with Harlow, this was a surprise, but a great opportunity for them, which they took. They were supported by the Gulbenkian Foundation. This enabled the quartet to establish itself as a new young force in string-quartet playing, and they also took part in educational projects. In Harlow they launched their professional career. The town council also commissioned music from composers on their behalf, including Alan RAWSTHORNE's third string quartet written for the 1965 Harlow Festival, and Nicholas MAW's first string quartet.
 
Following broadcasts, recordings and tours their reputation grew. Benjamin BRITTEN invited the quartet to Aldeburgh and coached them in his own quartets; he also passed on new manuscripts from his friend Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH - the Ninth and Tenth String Quartets - which the Alberni Quartet premiered in the UK.
 
In 1968 Howard moved from the second violinist’s chair to lead the Alberni Quartet; he was to remain as leader until his forced retirement 38 years later. He led and guided the quartet on visits to Europe, North and South America, China and the Caribbean and they introduced works by SHOSTAKOVICH to the West.
 
 
(The Alberni Quartet)
 
Their debut in the Carnegie Hall was well received in the New York Times, and they received positive reviews of their recordings of SCHUMANN’s piano quintet, SCHUBERT's string quintet and BRAHMS' string sextets.
 
In 1965 aged 25, Howard married his girlfriend Virginia in Birmingham. Virginia had become a successful Harpsichordist and  they had a successful and long-lasting duo partnership.
 
In 1969, Virginia gave birth to their first son Guy William DAVIS.
 
In 1972, Virginia gave birth to their second son Oliver Reynolds DAVIS.
 
In the early 1970’s, Howard was very proud of a Grammy nomination for the Schubert C Major Quintet. A New York Times notice described the Alberni Quartet as "one of the half dozen finest quartets in the world", pioneering work for the British Council in China, the Caribbean and south America, and making recordings and broadcasts of HAYDEN, MOZART, SCHUBERT, and BRAHMS. He was especially fond of the CDs they made of Benjamin BRITTEN.
 
Howard was also a member of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.
 
In 1982, he was appointed professor of violin at the Royal Academy of Music, a position he held until the end of his life. He was one of Britain’s greatest violin teachers, and he rapidly developed an impressive stable of students and a reputation for inspired pedagogy, and many of his students went on to enjoy major careers.
 
Each year he hosted a barbecue for the RAM students, in his garden where he was cook, wine waiter and entertainer.
 
In 1987 the quartet became the first Western quartet to tour China since the Cultural Revolution.
 
As well as being a musician and a photographer, he was an excellent artist and painter. As a water colourist, he frequently exhibited his
paintings, winning prizes and selling to musicians and non-musicians alike. In his final two years of retirement, his art production was prodigious.
 
He played on a Carlo Annibale TONONI (1675 – 1730) violin which was sold to the Royal Academy of Music towards the end of his career; however he did own many other valuable instruments and many bows.
 
Howard also had a house in Northern France where he went often in the holidays. He had a concert hall built there to give recitals by himself and his pupils.
 
In December 2005, ill-health forced him to give up his position with the quartet. Even though he was forced to retire, as his health deteriorated, he continued to teach with his usual enthusiasm until the very end.
 
Howard died on the 5th February 2008 in London of a respiratory disease, aged 67. He is survived by his wife and sons.
 
If you have any information to add on Howard T DAVIS, please send details to us at enquiries@bfhg.org.uk