Born Hilary Wilson, her father inherited the prospering Wilson Shipping Line, whose business was originally founded on iron ore imports from Sweden in the days of the Industrial Revolution. Hilary was a shy, retiring child with a passion for music and devotion to the piano. Although custom of the day precluded entry to music college, her talent was such that the great Solomon accepted her for private study. She gave many private recitals and, during the First World War, played to the wounded in hospitals. In 1928 she married Sir Geoffrey Fitz-clarence who in the same year inherited his uncle’s title of 5th Earl of Munster.
Over the years, Lady Munster continued to perform in hospitals and at schools and her home at Bletchingley in Surrey was a hub of musical activity. She was a great patron of many professional musicians of the day. Perhaps due to the fact that her marriage was childless, she took a particular interest in young performers and, with the support of her close friend, Gerald Coke, a financier and support of music, the idea of putting her help onto an enduring and practical basis was conceived with the founding in 1958 of the Countess of Munster Musical Trust.
The Trust’s role was to support young musicians of professional potential to achieve their aims, by funding their fees and living expenses and also by underwriting concerts for promotional purposes. Now well-established in the classical music world, the help it provides has made and continues to make a real and significant contribution to the advancement of talented young musicians.
The Recital Scheme
In the 1960s, aware of the lack of performance opportunities for young musicians, the Trustees initiated concerts for the benefit of young soloists with the English Chamber Orchestra under Raymond Leppard, who was himself a Trustee at that time. From these beginnings the idea of Recital Scheme developed, with immediate and lasting success.
The benefits of the Scheme are twofold, not only does it provide young musicians with experience of the professional platform and exposure to audiences throughout the country, but the music clubs themselves also benefit from introductions to talented young musicians and the sponsorship the Trust provides. Over 200 music clubs and societies are registered with the Trust and may engage selected young artists for one concert during their annual season. The Trust meets the fees of up to two young artists and the clubs pay a modest registration fee and provide help towards travelling expenses.
For more than 50 years, the Trust has not had recourse to fundraising and indeed, it has always maintained a modest profile. However, with increases in educational costs and low investment returns, its reserves are coming under pressure and, in order to maintain the efficacy of the Trust’s work, the Trustees feel that they should tell people about the importance of its work.
The Trust is unique in the provision of independent resources and expertise in identifying and helping those with the greatest talent and need. Maintaining the support the Trust has provided for more than 50 years is critical to the future of the musical life of this country’s own young talent. The spirit which Lady Munster inspired still survives and the strong sense of her original concept renews itself in all who become involved with the Trust.