Virtuoso violinist whose talent never flourished

Evelyn with her mentor Prof Otokar Sevcik
Evelyn with her mentor Prof Otokar Sevcik

Eighty years ago the world was on the brink of a war which would destroy the lives of thousands of brave men and women and rob families of the futures they had dreamed of having.

Over the coming months and years much will be written about this sacrifice but I hope that the less obvious consequences of war will also merit some attention.

I have one such story for you today which first came to my attention back in 2012 thanks to a conversation with the late Bill Anderson of Russel and Aitken. He told me the amazing story of Evelyn Dewar of Larbert and later contributed an article for our local history journal ‘‘Calatria’’.

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 painted a picture of the Larbert and Falkirk of her childhood which was awash with classical music recitals.

An amazing number of star performers played in the Dobbie Hall, Falkirk Town Hall, and elsewhere and Evelyn’s family appeared 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 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.

She had, said one critic, “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, after her parents died, she remained in her family home for 50 years, fading into relative obscurity.

She spent part of her declining years doing small sewing and dress-making jobs at home and some folk recall her playing the piano at church functions.

But the war had taken her career and few people, even those with a keen interest in classical music, have ever heard of her. How sad.