(Eugène) Arnold Dolmetsch was a French-born musician and instrument maker who spent much of his working life in England and established an instrument-making workshop in Haslemere, Surrey. He was a leading figure in the 20th century revival of interest in early music.
The Dolmetsch family was originally of Bohemian origin, but (Eugène) Arnold Dolmetsch, the son of Rudolph Arnold Dolmetsch and his wife Marie Zélie (née Guillouard) was born at Le Mans, France, where the family had established a piano-making business. It was in the family's workshops that Dolmetsch acquired the skills of instrument-making that would later be put to use in his early music workshops. He studied music at The Brussels Conservatoire and learnt the violin with Henri Vieuxtemps. In 1883 he travelled to London to attend the Royal College of Music, where he studied under Henry Holmes and Frederick Bridge, being awarded a Bachelor of Music degree in 1889.
Arnold Dolmetsch was employed for a short time as a music teacher at Dulwich College, but his interest in early instruments was awakened by seeing the collections of historic instruments in the British Museum, and, after constructing his first reproduction of a lute in 1893, he began restoring and building clavichords, harpsichords and other early instruments, first in London, and then for Chickering of Boston (1905-1911), then for Gaveau of Paris (1911-1914). He went on to establish an instrument-making workshop in Haslemere, Surrey and proceeded to build copies of almost every kind of instrument dating from the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries, including viols, lutes, recorders and a range of keyboard instruments. His 1915 book The Interpretation of the Music of the 17th and 18th Centuries was a milestone in the development of authentic performances of early music.
In 1925 Arnold Dolmetsch founded an annual chamber music festival, the International Dolmetsch Early Music Festival, which is held every July at Haslemere, in the Haslemere Hall. He was active in the cultural life of London, and his friends and admirers included William Morris, Selwyn Image, Roger Fry, Gabriele d'Annunzio, George Bernard Shaw, Ezra Pound , George Moore whose novel Evelyn Innes, celebrates Dolmetsch's life and work, and W.B. Yeats.
Arnold Dolmetsch was responsible for rediscovering the school of English composers for viol consort (including John Jenkins and William Lawes), leading to Sir Henry Hadow's tribute that Dolmetsch had "opened the door to a forgotten treasure-house of beauty". He was also largely responsible for the revival of the recorder, both as a serious concert instrument, and as an instrument which made early music accessible to amateur performers. He went on to promote the recorder as an instrument for teaching music in schools. In 1937 he received a British Civil list pension and in 1938 he was created a chevalier of the Légion d'honneur by the French government.
Arnold Dolmetsch was married three times. In May 1878 he married Marie Morel of Namur, Belgium (a widow, ten years his senior) but was divorced in 1898. His second wife, to whom he was married in September 1899, in Zürich, was Elodie Désirée, the divorced wife of his brother. This marriage ended in divorce in 1903. Thirdly, he was married in September 1903 to Mabel Johnston, one of his pupils.
Dolmetsch encouraged the members of his family to learn the skills of instrument-making and musicianship and the family frequently appeared together in concerts, playing instruments constructed in the Dolmetsch workshops. Following the death of Arnold Dolmetsch at Haslemere in 1940, his family continued to promote the building and playing of early instruments.
- Mabel Dolmetsch, his wife, was a noted player of the bass viol and teacher of and writer on early dance.
- Rudolph Dolmetsch, his son, was a gifted keyboard player and orchestral conductor, who lost his life during World War II.
- Nathalie Dolmetsch, his daughter, was a viol player and leading member of the Viola da Gamba Society.
- Carl Frederick Dolmetsch, his son, was a noted recorder player and took over the running of his father's instrument-making business.
- Cecile Dolmetsch, his daughter, was a viol player.