Cecil Aronowitz Centenary

Cecil Aronowitz was born on 4 March 1916 in King William’s Town, South Africa. In 1933 he began studying the violin in Durban with Stirling Robbins. After two years he came to England on an overseas scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music in London. In 1939, interrupted his studies and he spent the next six years in the army. When he returned to England, he switched to the viola.

The Amadeus Quartet asked him regularly to play second viola in the string quintet and the string sextet repertoire. In spring 1949 he joined the violas of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1950 he co-founded the Melos Ensemble. Aronowitz was the violist of the group for decades, and Terence Weil was the cellist. Bassoonist William Waterhouse wrote in 1995, “It was the remarkable rapport between this pair of lower strings, which remained constant throughout a succession of distinguished leaders, that gave a special distinction to this outstanding ensemble.”

He played and recorded with the Pro Arte Piano Quartet, with Kenneth Sillito playing violin, and Terence Weil and Lamar Crowson playing piano. Aronowitz played regularly with the London Mozart Players and was the principal violist with the Goldsbrough Orchestra (later to become theEnglish Chamber Orchestra). He also appeared at the Aldeburgh Festival every year from 1949 until his death in 1978. At Aldeburgh, Aronowitz was a soloist, chamber musician, and leader of the violas in the English Opera Group.

Benjamin Britten wrote many viola parts with Cecil Aronowitz in mind, particularly in his chamber operas and church operas.]The chamber music in his War Requiem was written for the Melos Ensemble and was conducted by Britten in the first performance at Coventry in 1962. The first recording was made in 1963. Cecil Aronowitz also participated in the premiere and first recording of Britten’s Curlew River in 1964. In 1976, Britten wrote Aronowitz a version of his Lachrymae (written for William Primrose in 1950, originally for viola and piano) for viola and string orchestra.

In 1951, he premiered the Suite for Viola and Cello by Arthur Butterworth with Terence Weil. Alun Hoddinott wrote a Viola Concertino for him in 1958. Variations for Viola and Piano (1958), the Op. 1 of Hugh Wood, was premiered by Margaret Kitchin and Cecil Aronowitz on 7 July 1959 at a concert in the Wigmore Hall given by the Society for the Promotion of New Music. In the 1960s, he played in the Cremona Quartet with leader Hugh Maguire, Iona Brown, and Terence Weil. At the 1976 Aldeburgh Festival he and his wife Nicola Grunberg gave the first public performance outside Russia of Shostakovich’s last work, the Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 147, in the presence of Britten and Shostakovich’s widow.
He taught viola and chamber music at the Royal College of Music for 25 years, then in 1973 became the first Head of Strings at the newly formed Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. The RNCM has regularly awarded a Cecil Aronowitz Prize for viola.

In 1978 he suffered a stroke in a performance of Mozart’s String Quintet in C major and died in Ipswich, England, the following morning.


Tuesday 1st March 2016. Lunch time concert at Birmingham Conservatoire

Former student of Cecil Aronowitz, Simon Rowland-Jones, played a recital with pianist Robert Markham to commemorate the centenary of the South African born violist.

The programme included music by Bach, Brahms, Beethoven and Kreisler. Cecil’s 100th birthday would have been on Friday 4 March 2015 and his family was present at the concert to celebrate the occasion.


BBC Radio 3 ‘Essential Classics’

Monday 29th February to Friday 4th March 2016, 9am –9.30am .

My favourite… viola pieces.

Viola player Cecil Aronowitz, who co-founded the Melos Ensemble was a preferred extra with the Amadeus Quartet. To celebrate his anniversary Sarah Walker chose a selection of her favourite short pieces for Aronowitz’s somewhat overlooked, even mocked, instrument, including works by Rebecca Clarke, Debussy, Strauss and Bach.