William Waterhouse (bassoonist)

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William Waterhouse
Born(1931-02-18)18 February 1931
London, UK
Died5 November 2007(2007-11-05) (aged 76)
Florence, Italy
EducationRoyal College of Music
  • Bassoonist
  • Musicologist
  • Academic teacher
SpouseElisabeth Waterhouse

William Waterhouse (18 February 1931 – 5 November 2007) was an English bassoonist and musicologist. He played with notable orchestras, was a member of the Melos Ensemble, professor at the Royal Northern College of Music, author of the Yehudi Menuhin Music Guide "Bassoon", of The New Langwill Index, and contributor to the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.[1]

Biography and career as a performer[edit]

Born in London, Waterhouse studied at the Royal College of Music, specifically the bassoon with Archie Camden, viola with Cecil Aronowitz, and harmony with the composer Gordon Jacob. From 1953 to 1955, he was second bassoonist in the orchestra of the Royal Opera at Covent Garden at the time of Maria Callas, Tito Gobbi, and Kirsten Flagstad. Later he stated that his most valuable lessons in phrasing were actually learned playing in the pit while accompanying opera singers.[2] From 1955 until 1958 he played in the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano. He was the principal bassoonist in the London Symphony Orchestra (1958–1965), and in the BBC Symphony Orchestra (1965–1982), playing under such conductors as Cantelli, Toscanini, Furtwängler, Monteux, Karajan, Klemperer and Boulez.[3]

Waterhouse was married to the pianist and music teacher Elisabeth Waterhouse. The composer and cellist Graham Waterhouse is their son. Violinist and teacher Celia Milner of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and freelance violinist and teacher Lucy Waterhouse are their daughters.

William Waterhouse died in 2007 in Florence.[4]

Chamber musician[edit]

William Waterhouse was a member of the Melos Ensemble from 1959 and participated with the group in the premiere of the War Requiem by Benjamin Britten, conducted by the composer. He recorded all the wind chamber music by Beethoven, and works by Nielsen, Janáček, Poulenc, Schubert and Jean Françaix with the ensemble. He wrote in 1995: "It was the remarkable rapport between this pair of lower strings" (i.e. Terence Weil and Cecil Aronowitz) "which remained constant throughout a succession of distinguished leaders, that gave a special distinction to this outstanding ensemble."[5]

He recorded with the Melos Ensemble, its principal players Richard Adeney and William Bennett (flute), Gervase de Peyer and Keith Puddy (clarinet), Stephen Trier (bass clarinet), Peter Graeme and Sarah Barrington (oboe), Neill Sanders and James Buck (horn), Edgar Williams (bassoon), Emanuel Hurwitz and Ivor McMahon (violin), Cecil Aronowitz (viola), Terence Weil (cello), Adrian Beers (double bass), Lamar Crowson (piano):[6]

In 1974 he recorded Stockhausen's Adieu with the London Sinfonietta: Sebastian Bell (flute), Janet Craxton (oboe), Antony Pay (clarinet) and John Butterworth (horn), conducted by the composer.


William Waterhouse was a professor at the Royal Northern College of Music from 1966 until 1996, when he served as Curator of the Collection of Historic Musical Instruments.[7] He was awarded Fellowship of the College in 1991.[8] In 1972, he became visiting professor at Indiana University, Bloomington. He was also guest professor in Melbourne and Banff.[9]

Juror of international competitions[edit]

He served on the jury of the ARD Musikwettbewerb in Munich in 1965, 1975, 1984 and 1990, as well as in Prague, Eindhoven, Markneukirchen, Potsdam and Victoria BC.[3]

The Proud Bassoon[edit]

William Waterhouse was celebrated in his 80th birthyear on 16 April 2011 in a Memorial Concert The Proud Bassoon in Wigmore Hall. Players included his three children, Gervase de Peyer and Timothy Brown as former members of the Melos Ensemble, players who succeeded him such as Roger Birnstingl (Orchestre de la Suisse Romande) and Julie Price (BBC Symphony Orchestra), bassoonists from around the world, such as Jim Kopp, Lyndon Watts and Takashi Yamakami, his students and a bassoon quartet from the RNCM, led by Stefano Canuti. All the music played related to him, his own arrangement of Giovanni Gabrieli's Sonata Pian' e Forte for two bassoon choirs, music dedicated to him, such as Gordon Jacob's Suite and the Divertissement of Jean Francaix, and music composed in his memory, his son's Bright Angel and Epitaphium. The concert ended with the final movement from Schubert's Octet, which he had often played and twice recorded with the Melos Ensemble.[10][11] The program book includes a section of memories, titled "recollected in tranquility, a celebration", including a contribution of Karlheinz Stockhausen who wrote in 2007:

Not only in rehearsal, but also in many hours before and after rehearsals and recordings, and during our trips with the ensemble, I had the pleasure and privilege of sharing with William Waterhouse his rich cultural knowledge and enthusiasm. He was a musician as we all should be: excellent as a performer, open minded, curious, well educated, joyous, full of humour. I greet him in the beyond and hope to meet him again."[12][13]

Music dedicated to William Waterhouse[edit]

Gordon Jacob dedicated to him the Suite for bassoon and string quartet, first performed at the Cheltenham Festival on 8 July 1969 together with Emanuel Hurwitz, Ivor McMahon, Cecil Aronowitz and Terence Weil,[14] and the Partita for solo bassoon which Waterhouse premiered on 27 October 1977 in Wigmore Hall.[15] Jean Françaix dedicated his 1942 Divertissement for bassoon and string quintet (or orchestra) to him when it was published in 1968,[16] also in 1994 his Trio for oboe, bassoon and piano.[17] Victor Bruns dedicated his Trio op. 97 für Fagottino, Fagott und Kontrafagott to William Waterhouse. Stanley Weiner wrote a Sonata for Bassoon Solo op. 32.[18] Graham Waterhouse dedicated Mouvements d'Harmonie[19][20] and Hexenreigen[21] to him and composed Phoenix Arising for bassoon and piano[22][23] and Epitaphium as a tribute to his father's memory. In 2008 he composed the bassoon quartet Bright Angel, in memory of a hike with his father through the Grand Canyon.

Author and editor[edit]

He contributed to the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and edited for the publishers Musica Rara, Hofmeister, and Universal Edition. Among the rare music he rediscovered is a sonata for bassoon and piano by Anton Liste (1772–1832) that he recorded in 1998 with William Fong.[24] Lyndesay G. Langwill, who had published his Index of Musical Wind-Instrument Makers in book form from 1960 in six editions, had designated William Waterhouse as his successor and had left him his archive of correspondence and books, before he died in 1983.[2] After ten years of research The New Langwill Index: A dictionary of musical wind-instrument makers and inventors was published.[25] This important work of reference was awarded the C.B. Oldman prize in 1995.[26] Posthumously he received the Curt Sachs Award of the American Musical Instrument Society on 31 May 2008.[27]

Selected publications[edit]

  • The New Langwill Index: A dictionary of musical wind-instrument makers and inventors, 1st edition 1993[25]
  • Bassoon (Yehudi Menuhin Music Guides), Kahn & Averill, London 2001, 2005. ISBN 1-871082-68-4, 2003. Roger Birnstingl wrote in his review for the British Double Reed Society:

    There can be no-one alive more qualified than WW to write the definitive book on the bassoon.

  • Fagott Translation of Bassoon to German by Klaus Gillessen, Bärenreiter, 2006, ISBN 3-7618-1871-8
  • Weber's Bassoon Concerto Op. 75: The Manuscript and Printed Sources Compared[28]

Double reed societies[edit]

Waterhouse was one of the co-founders of the British Double Reed Society in 1988 and was a member of the Society's Committee until his death in 2007. The IDRS 2009, the annual conference of the International Double Reed Society in Birmingham, was dedicated to him and Evelyn Barbirolli.[29][30]


The International Chair in Chamber Music & Bassoon of the RNCM is titled in his name.[31]


  1. ^ Emerson, June (9 November 2007). "Obituary: William Waterhouse". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 10 November 2008. William Waterhouse, Eminent bassoonist and a leading expert on the instrument's history and music
  2. ^ a b Paul B. Carls IDRS 1985
  3. ^ a b William Waterhouse Guild Music profile 2000
  4. ^ "John Robert Brown". Retrieved 27 August 2009.
  5. ^ Obituary Terence Weil, The Independent, William Waterhouse, 9 March 1995
  6. ^ Melos Ensemble – Music among Friends, EMI
  7. ^ RNCM Collection of Historic Musical Instruments: Catalogue
  8. ^ Royal Northern College of Music: William Waterhouse Anna Wright, librarian, 2007
  9. ^ Eugene Chadbourne, All Music Guide
  10. ^ Nick Breckenfield (18 April 2011). "William Waterhouse Memorial Concert at Wigmore Hall". classicalsource.com.
  11. ^ "William Waterhouse Celebration / The Proud Bassoon" (PDF). Park Lane Group. 2011.
  12. ^ "The Proud Bassoon / William Waterhouse Celebration" (PDF). 16 April 2011. p. 15.
  13. ^ Peter Grahame Woolf (16 April 2011). "Graham Waterhouse, Giovanni Gabrieli, Anton Reicha, Gordon Jacob, Jean Françaix, Giuseppe Tamplini etc". musicalpointers.co.uk.
  14. ^ Gordon Jacob Suite
  15. ^ Gordon Jacob Partita
  16. ^ Divertissement Schott Music
  17. ^ Trio Schott Music
  18. ^ Stanley Weiner Sonata
  19. ^ "The Proud Bassoon, William Waterhouse's 60th Birthday Concert". Retrieved 28 August 2009.
  20. ^ "Mouvements d'Harmonie". Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  21. ^ "Hexenreigen". Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  22. ^ "Phoenix Arising". Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  23. ^ "Concert in memoriam William Waterhouse, Berlin" (in German). Retrieved 27 August 2009.
  24. ^ Bassoon & Piano Sonatas by Anton Liste Guildmusic, German/English, quote: It is a rare opportunity to hear the masterly artistry of William Waterhouse, whose recordings are, sadly, too few, especially as a soloist. No other bassoonist in the world plays like Bill. His phrasing ability, ease of performance, style, and fabulous technique make him a "bassoonist's bassoonist".
  25. ^ a b "The New Langwill Index". Notes. 1 December 1995. Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  26. ^ C.B. Oldman Prize
  27. ^ American Musical Instrument Society 2008
  28. ^ "Weber's Bassoon Concerto Op. 75". Retrieved 27 August 2009.
  29. ^ "IDRS 2009". Retrieved 27 August 2009. The IDRS 2009 will be dedicated to the memory of two great protagonists and personalities of the double reed – William Waterhouse and Evelyn Barbirolli. (Programme Book, p. 8)
  30. ^ Calvert, Christopher (2009). "IDRS 2009: The World on Your Doorstep" (PDF). BDRS. p. 17. Retrieved 31 October 2012.
  31. ^ "Stefano Canuti: International Chair in Chamber Music & Bassoon". RNCM. 6 July 2016. Retrieved 3 November 2022.

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