David Dalton, a retired professor of music at Brigham Young University who was one of the world’s greatest champions of the viola, has died.
Dalton died Dec. 23, from natural causes, his family reported. He was 88.
In addition to teaching at BYU, Dalton was a founding member of the Deseret String Quartet, and co-founder — with his mentor, William Primrose — of the Primrose International Viola Archive at BYU’s Harold B. Lee Library, which Dalton’s son, Aaron, called the “definitive repository of all music related to the viola internationally.”
Paul Neubauer, professor at The Juilliard School and a longtime friend, said, “what David did with starting the Primrose archives at BYU was one of the most incredible things that has happened for the instrument. [BYU] is the epicenter of all things viola because of David Dalton. Every violist should be thankful for his vision and drive.”
Dalton’s daughter, Melissa Dalton-Bradford, said that “my father was highly self-disciplined. His life was like clockwork. He made a plan and he executed the plan.”
If she had to make an estimate, Dalton-Bradford said, 79% of her childhood with her dad revolved around music. The rest was about the beauty of Utah, since Dalton was also an environmentalist and amateur photographer.
Claudine Bigelow, a professor of viola at BYU and a member of the Deseret String Quartet, called Dalton — her predecessor as head of viola studies at BYU — a “rigorous” mentor, but such rigor paid off.
“He gave me a good preparation for understanding what it would take to be professionally viable as a violist,” said Bigelow, who has played viola for the National Symphony, the Utah Symphony, the Smithsonian Chamber Orchestra and the National Chamber Orchestra over her career. Dalton’s example, she said, showed her what she needed to do as a professor.
Dalton’s role in codifying the importance of viola, Bigelow said, can be seen in his book, “Playing the Viola: Conversations with William Primrose.” The book, published in 1990, is one of the reasons Dalton has an international reputation, she said.
Because of Dalton, Bigelow said, BYU has “the largest viola collection in the world.” Violas tend to be the butt of jokes in the orchestra world, Bigelow said, but “David has helped [us] deal with that and [encouraged us] to stand tall.”
Aaron Dalton said his father’s legacy “will be multi-faceted, but the legacy that most people will remember him for will be the legacy through his students.”
A violin for Christmas
David Johnson Dalton was born Jan. 18, 1934, in Springville, Utah, the son of Oliver H. Dalton, a cattleman, and Jessie J. Dalton, a woman of the arts. As a child, Dalton received a violin as a gift one Christmas — instead of the bicycle he wanted — and he took up music.
Dalton studied violin at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., receiving both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in the instrument. It was Primrose’s tutelage at Indiana University that convinced Dalton to switch to the slightly larger instrument, the viola.
Primrose, Aaron Dalton said, was “the Michael Jordan of the viola,” who took what was often relegated to a backup role and turned it into a soloist’s instrument.
Dalton’s passion for the viola took him around the world, his daughter Melissa said. When he served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1954 to 1957 in post-war Germany, he was asked to bring his instrument along — something his wife, Donna, said was unheard of at the time.
Dalton would perform concert tours through the chaplaincy of the U.S. military in West Germany and East France, Donna Dalton said, “to introduce good music to the military community.”
After his mission, Dalton met a woman at BYU, Donna Glazier, who sang soprano in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They were married Aug. 28, 1957, in the Mesa, Arizona, temple.
Dalton went on to study at Vienna’s Akademie der Musik and Munich’s Hochschule für Musik. He received his doctorate at Indiana University, studying under Primrose.
Dalton-Bradford said she recalled that, as a child, she often heard family prayers spoken in German — which made her think God was German. Even to the end of her father’s life, she said, Dalton would end phone conversations with “ich liebe dich,” German for “I love you.”
“This was a man who sort of straddled cultures,” Dalton-Bradford said. “He was very European but he was very Utahn. He wore cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. His heart was here in Utah.”
The world came to the Dalton family home. “We had people from all over the world who were musicians that came to our home to create music,” Dalton-Bradford said. “They were from all over the world because he was passionate about diversity.” Only when she was older, she said, did she realize this wasn’t the norm in Utah County.
Primrose moved from Indiana to Japan and ultimately to BYU, where he and Dalton established the Primrose International Viola Archive in 1974. Primrose died in 1982, in Provo.
An influence on musicians
Richard Elliott, the principal organist of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, was a colleague and friend of Dalton at BYU, and considered Dalton a father figure. Elliott described Dalton as “a pragmatist, practical and down to earth.”
As music director of the Salt Lake Symphony for 12 years, Dalton once invited Elliott to be a soloist for a performance of French composer Camille Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3. Elliott had played the piece a dozen times under different conductors, he said, but Dalton “helped me understand certain things [about] that piece that I hadn’t understood before.”
Roberto Diaz, current president of the Curtis Institute of Music, said Dalton was a major influence. Diaz’ father studied with Primrose just before Dalton did, and the two stayed in the same apartment in Indiana at different times.
Years later, the younger Diaz bought the Amati viola that Primrose inherited from his own father. When Dalton learned of this, he invited Diaz to study some never-before-used manuscripts of Primrose’s, from the BYU archive, to record with the instrument. One of the recordings, “Primrose: Viola Transcriptions,” earned Diaz a Grammy nomination in 2006.
“There are many of us out there who are lucky enough to be the recipients of [Dalton’s] unselfish willingness to help, and we’re going to miss him for that,” Diaz said.
For all his work in music — including a stint as president of the American Viola Society, and editor of the society’s quarterly review — Dalton always made time, his son Aaron said, to go out to BYU football games on Saturdays.
Dalton’s wife, Donna, recalled when they built their home in Provo’s Grandview Hill neighborhood, using thousands of pioneer-era bricks that David collected from a Spanish Fork mercantile that was torn down in the 1960s. By the time the house was built in 1970, she said, David must have handled each brick five times. “It was of great joy and accomplishment, because he wanted that kind of house,” she said.
Dalton is survived by his wife, Donna, and their four children — Alison Dalton of Chicago; Melissa Dalton-Bradford of Frankfurt, Germany; Hilary Dalton of Dubuque, Iowa; and Aaron Dalton of Provo — as well as 15 grandchildren and a brother, Stephen E. Dalton of Salt Lake City.
Funeral services are scheduled at the Grandview LDS Stake Center, 1122 Grand Ave., Provo, on Saturday, Jan. 7, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. A viewing is set for Friday, Jan. 6, 6 to 8 p.m., at the same location. In lieu of flowers, people are urged to donate to the Primrose International Viola Archive, at the Harold B. Lee Library at BYU, or to the Nature Conservancy.