Perhaps no other group than the Early Music Consort of London has given as much impetus to the "early music revival" of the late twentieth century. David Munrow founded the group in 1967, and every aspect of its sound and meteoric rise bears the stamp of his personality. Munrow came to early music through a chance encounter with a crumhorn hanging on a friend's wall in Cambridge in 1961. He subsequently embarked on a passionate program of research and self study on the crumhorn, the shawm, the recorder, and other instruments throughout the medieval and early modern spectrum. He studied formally at Birmigham University for a year, with another three years or so in self-study. In 1967, he both accepted a teaching position at Leicester University and founded the Early Music Consort of London.
From the outset, the Early Music Consort of London served as a platform for Munrow's personal virtuosity. He gathered a core group of five other virtuosi, expanding the group's personnel depending on the needs of a particular performing repertory. In addition to his then-unheard-of skill on the earlier instruments, the sound of the Consort (in the words of a historian of the early music revival) "bore the stamp of [Munrow's] exhuberant, extroverted personality." The group's first tour took place in 1968, bringing Munrow and the Consort first to the world's attention (and coincidentally, giving the director an opportunity to shop around the bazaars of Europe for even more instruments). Work for the BBC -- especially the soundtracks for a pair of TV series on the lives of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I -- led to international recognition, as well as an extremely popular radio series. In a little over eight years, Munrow and the Early Music Consort of London released more than 50 LPs of well-planned early music programs and led an extensive touring life. The group helped Munrow write and illustrate an important book on early musical instruments. It also expanded its repertory beyond England to explore several centuries' worth of music (from the Troubadours to J.S. Bach) from several countries. Each new program brings fresh energy, a vital emotional urgency, and for the time, pinnacles of technical skill. Unfortunately, the 1976 suicide of David Munrow, the Early Music Consort of London's founder and artistic guide, led to the virtual end of the ensemble.