This tribute was published in The Guardian on 7th September 2011.
Ian Harwood, who has died aged 79, taught many of today’s musical-instrument makers, either in his own workshop or at the London College of Furniture, where he was senior lecturer in the 1970s. He will be remembered for his pioneering work researching and building lutes and renaissance viols, and for his generous academic (rather than commercial and competitive) attitude.
Ian was born in Petersfield, Hampshire, where his father was organist, and became a chorister at Winchester Cathedral at the age of 10. There, while exploring a dark and cobwebbed corridor of the Pilgrims’ school, he saw his first lute. In the handicraft workshops, he built battery radios and made model aeroplanes. On one of the former, he first heard the Dolmetsch family, pioneers of the early music revival, playing their viols. Ian’s interests in music and aeroplanes were to shape the rest of his life.
From 1948 until 1952, he was an engineering apprentice with the de Havilland aircraft company in Hatfield, Hertfordshire. He was appalled by weapons research and this led him to register as a conscientious objector. In lieu of national service, he worked at Addenbrooke’s hospital, Cambridge, operating a synchrotron, used in cancer treatment and research. This broke down frequently, and in the long periods waiting for spare parts, his boss allowed him to use a spare lab as a workshop. There he constructed his first lute.
Some years earlier, he bought his first playable lute from the lutenist Diana Poulton, and although it came from a theatrical costumiers, it was good enough for him to take lessons with her. In 1955, on an afternoon walk across the Sussex downs to visit the Dolmetsch family in Haslemere, he and Poulton first discussed the creation of the Lute Society. Founded the following year, it now has more than 900 members worldwide.
After Addenbrooke’s, Ian became a lay clerk at New College, Oxford, combining a precarious career as maker and player of lutes with research in the Oxford libraries. He married Frances Frankton in 1954, and when the post of lay clerk at Ely Cathedral, in Cambridgeshire, was offered, with house and workshop included, he moved again. His friend John Isaacs joined him in 1961 and they built lutes together for the next 10 years. The lutenist Anthony Rooley, commending Ian’s “wonderful” instruments, said: “They floated, almost, as one picked them up to play.”
Singing continued to play an important part in Ian’s life, and he took private lessons in lute and voice from Desmond Dupré and Alfred Deller. In 1971 he and and his wife became curators of the National Trust property Fenton House in Hampstead, north London, and its collection of early musical instruments, but, frustrated by the lack of a workshop, he left after only two years to apply the results of his research into pitch standards to the building of renaissance viols. Ian suggested that the different sizes of surviving 17th-century instruments could best be explained if two pitch standards had been used.
When a large order from an American university was cancelled without compensation, he turned to restoring wooden aircraft from the interwar period at Rush Green, near his home in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. In 1992 he started a business importing and modifying a French-built microlight, the Flying Flea.
Ian’s first marriage ended in divorce, and in 1979 he married Christine Bland. Following her death in 1997, he returned to music and research. He identified Mathew Holmes as the 16th-century scribe of a vital lute manuscript and helped produce a facsimile edition, The Mathew Holmes Manuscripts (2010). At the time of his death he was arranging publication of Six Seuerall Instrvments: the “English Consort” and its Music, c1570–1620, a comprehensive study which brought together the fruits of his lifetime research.
Ian was elected president of the Lute Society in 1997 and appointed MBE in 2008. He is survived by his children, Jenny and Peter, and two grandchildren.
• Ian Harwood, musicologist and instrument-maker, born 29 August 1931; died 28 July 2011