Scotsman obituaries: Daphne Godson, accomplished violinist and founder member of Scottish Baroque Ensemble

Daphne Godson, violinist. Born: 16 March, 1932 in Edinburgh. Died: 15 August, 2022 in Edinburgh, aged 90

Daphne Godson pictured during her time performing with the Scottish Early Music Consort
Daphne Godson pictured during her time performing with the Scottish Early Music Consort

The violinist Daphne Godson was born in 1932 at 7 Stanley Street, Portobello, Edinburgh: her full name was Edith Muriel Daphne Godson. She was the youngest of the family, her father being over 50 and her mother over 40 when she was born. Her father worked as a Civil Service clerk.

The family moved to Bruntsfield Place, but Daphne and one of her brothers were evacuated for a little while when war was declared. She attended the Primary Department of James Gillespie’s High School for Girls and then George Watson’s Ladies’ College. At least some of her musical education involved the Waddell School of Music. She was good at languages at school so it wasn’t a certainty then that she would make her career as a musician.

Daphne grew up in a household with an interest in culture, music and literature. Her father was a keen amateur musician – a singer in the church choir at St Mark’s, Portobello and then Christ Church, Morningside, a cellist and a violinist. Her mother was a pianist who continued to have lessons as an adult. Daphne named piano teachers as Petrie Dunn, Walter Cameron, Dr Mary Grierson and Margaret Portcho, so her mother must have had some talent.

Daphne left school in 1949 and had a ‘gap year’ to work for her Grade 8 violin and piano exams. She was awarded a Dove Scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London in April 1950 and passed her Licentiate exam in June 1950. She had lessons with the Canadian violinist Frederick Grinke who was leader of the Boyd Neel Orchestra. Music she worked on included the Bartók and William Walton concertos.

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In 1954 she was awarded a Belgian government scholarship to have lessons with Professor André Gertler at the Brussels Conservatoire and achieved a first prize with distinction in his class the next year. In 1957, aged 24, she won first prize in an international violin competition held during the Festival of Contemporary Music in Darmstadt in Germany. The same year in December she entered the Third Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition in Poland. The judges included David Oistrakh, and Yehudi Menuhin was an honorary member of the jury. There were six prize winners and six award winners and Daphne was one of the latter and the only British success, winning 2,000 zlotys.

She returned to Edinburgh and the first time her name appeared in the Radio Times was in January 1959. In 1963 there was a concert in Gateshead when Daphne played a Concertino by Hans Gál, newly retired from Edinburgh University.

In 1969 Daphne was one of the founder members of the Scottish Baroque Ensemble, still flourishing as the Scottish Ensemble, reckoned to be the best string orchestra in the UK. She travelled widely with the group, to the USA in 1976, the USA and Canada in 1978 (a hectic 28 concerts in 34 days) and in 1981. There was a tour to Germany and Austria and another to Israel in 1982. One year Daphne went to Iceland with Scottish Opera, performing operas by Benjamin Britten, played at Snape Maltings in Suffolk in 1975 in Scottish Opera’s performance of Don Giovanni and of course there were concerts all over Scotland.

She also performed with chamber groups such as the Bernicia Ensemble, the Pegasus Trio and later the Merlyn Trio. Early music became fashionable and Daphne acquired a medieval fiddle with five strings and joined the Scottish Early Music Consort, recording a CD of music from the time of Mary, Queen of Scots. Daphne was the leader of the orchestra which accompanied the Edinburgh Bach Society choir.

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Daphne started teaching the violin and was employed at the City of Edinburgh Music School at Broughton High and at the Flora Stevenson Primary . She was highly respected as a teacher of the ‘old school’. She later did some playing with the Glasgow Philharmonic.

When Daphne retired from certain commitments, for example, in 1996 from teaching at the Music School, she had more time to explore other interests such as walking, keep fit, painting and joining the choir at the Botanical Gardens which led to her volunteering indoors there once a week. She went on National Trust and painting holidays and tours of Scottish gardens with other groups. In the summer she liked to go to talks which were part of the Edinburgh Book Festival. She regularly attended Canonmills Baptist Church where there were opportunities for her to play at special services and also at the funeral of Tom Fleming.

Retirement gave Daphne more opportunities for holidays. Renee Simm, who used to own the Greyfriars Art Shop, retired to Orkney and Daphne loved to stay in Stromness. Miss Simm was friends with the Orcadian poet, George Mackay Brown, so Daphne met him there. Mentioning Orkney to Daphne in her later years would always produce a smile.

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