Felix Adrian Norman Salmond came from a family of professional musicians. His mother, a pianist, had studied with Clara Schumann, and his father was a baritone. His primary teacher was William Whitehouse, with whom he began studying at age 12.
At the age of 16, he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. Salmond continued his studies there with Whitehouse. He went to Brussels Conservatoire at the age of 19. His teacher there for two more years was Edouard Jacobs.
He made his debut in Bechstein Hall in London in 1908, with his mother as his accompanist. It was a chamber music program, including the Brahms G minor Quartet, and Frank Bridge's Fantasy Trio in C minor. Bridge himself was the violist in both performances, with Maurice Sons the violinist. This successful recital led immediately to many engagements.
World War I prevented the development of an international career, but after the War he resumed building a reputation in chamber music. He participated in the first performance of Edward Elgar's String Quartet in 1919.
Elgar then entrusted to Salmond the premiere of his most personal and heartfelt work, the Cello Concerto. The premiere, October 27, 1919, is a day that has become a shameful day in British musical history. The conductor, Albert Coates, conducted the rest of the program, but Elgar led the concerto. Coates, a self-important man, was known to use as much as the first three quarters of an hour of his rehearsal time lecturing his orchestral players. Elgar, waiting off stage to rehearse his own work, uncharacteristically exploded when Coates consumed an hour of Elgar's rehearsal time. Elgar said later that had Salmond not have been conscientiously working on the concerto for months, he would have withdrawn the work from the concert. The work was severely under-rehearsed. Ernest Newman, the influential critic, said "the orchestra made a public exhibition of its miserable self." Naturally, the concerto made no impression on audience or critics. (It has since gone on to become one of the most beloved and deeply respected of British compositions.)
Fifty years after that occasion, the commentator S.S. Dale, wrote for the string players' magazine The Strad, "It does not speak much for English audiences that Salmond never had his due in England; and to be recognized at his true worth he had to emigrate to the United States, where he was responsible for the training of many of America's finest cellists today."
Salmond, bruised by the experience, moved to America where he was better appreciated, began teaching at the Juilliard School in 1924, and was appointed head of the cello department at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia in 1925. He kept that position until 1942.
As a teacher, he was highly esteemed. The Strad was not exaggerating when it credited Salmond with establishing a legacy of great cellists for America. Among his pupils were Orlando Cole, Leonard Rose, and Channing Robbins, as well as many others. The three named became highly influential teachers, who went on to teach the likes of Yo-Yo Ma and Lynn Harrell. Others of his pupils include Bernard Greenhouse, Daniel Saidenberg, and Frank Miller.
But the dismal concerto of October 1919 bruised him; he did not teach the Elgar, nor did he ever play it publicly in America. Thus, the work lost an opportunity to become known outside of England. As late as 1957, when Sir John Barbirolli gave a coaching session to the talented young American Leslie Parnas, Barbirolli was astonished to learn he had never heard or seen the great concerto.
Salmond was an emotional teacher. He ordinarily taught with patience and kindness, but was subject, when the student seemed not to be working to his potential, of castigating his pupil angrily. Cole said that at those times "you had to go through hell...He would say, 'What makes you think you can play cello? You're wasting my time and your time. You have no talent!'"
At the time Salmond began teaching, cello playing was undergoing a revolution in fingering, mostly a result of the innovations of Pablo Casals. Salmond developed a different bowing technique. Instead of spreading the fingers over the bow, with a rigid thumb, Salmond bent the thumb and placed the middle fingers together, more like a violinist. He stressed use of the arm rather than the wrist in crossing strings, again, a violin-like technique. He used the thumb, not pressure from the arm, as the source of power in the bow-stroke. This resulted in a less nasal, much more beautiful tone, and he consistently urged the student to strive for a beautiful tone.
His recording do show a lovely, singing tone. Not surprisingly, as the son of a professional baritone, he used reference to singing as his ideal. He called the cello the "singer par excellence of the [piano] trio, more able to sing than the violin or piano, and unequaled by them in its range of tone color. The violoncello can sing soprano, contralto, tenor, and bass, and it is capable of equal beauty of tone in all of these registers."
He was also innovative in the literature he taught his students. He de-emphasized show-off bon-bons such as the Popper pieces, and stressed building programs around sonatas. (Strange as it seems today, cellist up to his time regarded these as recreational pieces for home playing rather than concert items.) He also urged young artists to know the great masterpieces in other fields or art, like sculpture, painting, and literature, and even the great movies.