In Memoriam: William “Bill” Mathews (1937-2021)

The early music community lost a true pioneer earlier this Fall when William George “Bill” Mathews passed away in September at the age of 84.

An astrophysicist by training, Bill Mathews was also responsible in part for the blossoming of the early music scene in the Bay Area. While a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, he formed The Antiquarian Funks in 1971 with several of his students, including former Executive Director of SFEMS Harvey Malloy and cellist Roger Lebow (calling themselves “urfunks” as a running joke between them), to explore his passion for early music. At the time, there were few recordings, no teachers, and no set guidelines for historically informed performance (HIP)—as Malloy recalls, they had to track down the music transcripts in libraries and painstakingly copy them from the microfiches, as well as teach themselves how to play these new and strange (to them) instruments such as the sackbut, cornetto, and recorder—and from there, not only recreate but reimagine the music, making it their own; something today’s early musicians may take for granted, as we’ve become so used to having the freedom to follow or buck current trends in historical performance.

“You have to have a fluidity of mind, the imagination, to be able to do these things,” says Malloy. “That was the kind of vision Bill had even then. He was such an inspiration—he made it seem possible to perform on these instruments.”

Our Quicksilver Baroque concert on January 14 is sponsored in part by the Malloy family, Joyce Johnson Hamilton, and John Phillips in memory of Mr. Mathews. We feel this sponsorship is a wonderful way to honor the memory of someone who helped to start the Bay Area’s early music community. To purchase tickets, click HERE.

SFEMS’ sincere condolences go out to his relatives at the loss of their loved one, and to our wider community in the loss of a beloved mentor, teacher, and friend.

A full obituary is available here.

(Pictured below: The Antiquarian Funks in a performance from June, 1971. Bill Mathews is second from left, on recorder: Harvey Malloy second from right, on lute; and Roger Lebow, far right, on cello. Photo courtesy of Cynthia Mathews.)

Written by Heidi Waterman