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June 23rd 2016

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Will Croft wins Bate Essay Prize

Will Croft - Winner of the Bate Essay Prize with the viola d'amore

This year’s Bate Essay Prize has been won by St Hugh’s undergraduate Will Croft.

The Bate Essay Prize is awarded annually by the Faculty of Music for an essay by an undergraduate. The work must be relating to the history, study or construction of musical instruments in the Bate Collection. The 5,000 word essay, which receives a number of applicants, is submitted in Hilary Term and assessed by a panel of Fellows of the Faculty.

Will Croft, who is a first-year music student and Chapel choral scholar at the College, has also been invited to submit his essay for publication. The presence of the Bate Collection at the University’s Faculty of Music was part of the reason that Will decided to apply to Oxford. He has a particular interest in the history and development of musical instruments. The Collection offers some rare and unusual items the basis of the collection having originally been gifted by Philip Bate. These have subsequently been added to by a wide range of contributions and the collection now holds over 2,000 instruments.

Among other themes, his essay looked at the derivation of an instrument, the viola d’amore (similar to the modern viola), from the collection which in its design had subtle influences from the Indian sub-continent. The design incorporates sympathetic strings (strings that resonate with the rest of the instrument, rather than being played with the bow), giving an extra harmonious layer to notes.

Whilst the historiography had generally attributed the instrument to Bohemia in the 1650s, Will contested that accounts referencing the instrument existed suggesting prior English roots. These accounts reference a similar “English violet” in the early 17th century, which would coincide with the early expeditions of the East India Company to the Indian sub-continent.

Will was in fact able to borrow the instrument from the Collection, learning to play it. He used it to play the Hindemith Sonata during a performance for an Arts Society event in College at the Principal’s Lodge earlier in this academic year.

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