After nearly 40 years studying the history of the Falkirk district I thought there were no more surprises out there.
That was until I read an article in the current issue of the local history Journal, ‘Calatria’, in which Bill Anderson, of Russel and Aitken, tells the amazing story of Evelyn Dewar.
In February 1991 Miss Dewar died at her home in Muirhall Road, Larbert, at the age of 77.
She had lived there all her life, for the last 50 years in a quiet and unassuming way, and few of her neighbours were aware of her remarkable talent or of the fame and fortune that were once so nearly hers.
Today we rightly applaud the international achievements of Nicola Benedetti – back in the 1930s, for Nicola, read Evelyn Dewar.
Bill Anderson paints a picture of the Larbert and Falkirk of her childhood which was awash with classical music recitals. An amazing number of star performers trod the boards in the Dobbie Hall, Falkirk Town Hall and elsewhere and Evelyn’s family performed as the Dewar family quartet – two violins, cello and piano.
As a child she showed great promise on the violin and by the age of ten had composed a number of original songs and melodies.
After early home instruction Evelyn was sent to a succession of teachers including T. W. Blakey of the Falkirk School of Music and Miss Cowan at St Margaret’s School, Polmont, where she was a pupil.
By the age of 13 she was studying under Scotland’s foremost teacher of violin, Camillo Ritter at the Scottish National Academy of Music in Glasgow.
Her progress was rapid and by 1932 when she was 19 she had several songs published and her parents and teachers decided that she should be sent to Czechoslovakia to study under one of the world’s greatest violin teachers Professor Otakar Sevcik.
For the last two years of his life he nurtured the young performer and after his death she continued to study in Prague under Professors Kocian and Karel.
In 1938 Evelyn performed works by Mozart, Bach and Beethoven in Prague’s Smetana Hall to great acclaim: “ . . . astonishing technique for one so young. A great artist who in the next ten years or less will be above them all.”
But it was not to be.
The storm clouds of war were fast approaching and it was agreed that Evelyn should return to Scotland.
Back home, recitals were planned for the Dobbie Hall and the Albert Hall in Stirling.
The first went ahead but it was not well attended and she withdrew from the second.
It may be that she was demoralised by the response or that the stress of her sudden departure from Czechoslovakia had taken its toll.
Suffice to say that she stopped performing and as far as we know brought her fledgling career to an end.
After her parents died she remained in her family home for 50 years, fading into relative obscurity in the heart of our community and few people, even those with a keen interest in classical music, have ever heard of her.
It was a sad end to a very sad story though one hopes that somewhere the instruments she played came back to life in the hands of an aspiring young Scottish musician.
If you are interested in knowing more of Evelyn’s story you can read Bill’s article in ‘Calatria’, volume 28, available from Falkirk Local History Society or the Waterstones bookshop in the High Street.