David Munrow: Tragic genius who brought early music to the masses The short but brilliant life of David Munrow blazed a trail for his passion, says Ivan Hewett.

Maestro: in all, Munrow had command of 43 musical instruments

For most of history, the territory of what people called music didn’t extend very far. It consisted, by and large, of the sounds and styles they grew up with. Anything else was a barbaric noise.

Now, the territory seems endless. It stretches outwards to “ethnic” non-Western instruments and beyond them to electronic sound. And part of the reason we can stroll round this infinity with such insouciance is that a handful of explorers got there first. They mapped the territory, captured the sounds, and made them available to armchair explorers back home.

One of these intrepid souls was David Munrow. His particular unknown territory was the distant past of “classical music”. In a brief but blazing career — he committed suicide in 1976 aged 33 — he unearthed a treasury of instrumental music from the medieval and Renaissance periods, and brought it to life in performances of unsurpassed brilliance. For about 10 years, his group, the Early Music Consort, toured incessantly, and produced more than a dozen recordings.
 
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