An Obituary (1932–1997)
One of the most immediately likeable people, Robert played a subtle yet vital role behind the scenes in the transformation of the guitar world's understanding of early music, and in particular 19th century music. A librarian by training, Robert became part of the early music scene in its early days and was a member of the Julian Bream ensemble, as well as accompanying on lute many fine singers. He was also possessed of a voice of distinctive quality himself and his genial manner made his performances and lecture recitals, both solo and in partnership with his actress wife Jill Nott-Bower, both entertaining and fascinating. He taught for many years at the Royal Academy in London and at various early music summer schools around the world. It was as a collector that he made the most astonishing contribution to the world not only of the guitar and lute but the wider musical universe as well. He collected a prodigious amount of old music in the days when it was but little valued, for the purposes and with the results related in his presentation to the EGTA Conference and article for the Guitar Journal in 1995. He owned one of only two extant original manuscripts by John Dowland as well as many other lute tabulatures. He was regularly consulted by baroque specialist conductors and musicologists both as a source of original scores and performance material, and as a real fountain of knowledge on matters relating to music from the renaissance to the last century. A visit to his house was always likely to be interrupted by a flying visit from one or other well-known character from the early music scene either on a treasure hunt or to drop off a draft book manuscript for evaluation and advice. The house itself out-pictured this world of the music collections as it was stuffed with ancient furniture, paintings and tapestries. reflecting another dimension of the cultural past. An ever changing collection of original fretted instruments completed the picture of somebody for whom the musical past remained vivid and alive. By selflessly encouraging certain publishers to use his guitar music collection as a source of facsimile copies for complete editions Robert kick-started the re-appraisal of 19th century music and led to the appearance of several composers more or less totally ignored for over a century. That the music of Regondi, Ferranti, Ferrer, Mertz and others is alive in the repertoire again, and that all the music of Sor, Giuliani, Coste and others is easily accessible, is basically down to the quiet, unassuming work of this one man who basically gave us the fruits of his collecting, assuring for many composers and compositions a degree of immortality that was, alas, inevitably denied himself. Robert Spencer was so remarkably uninterested in the limelight that it is easy to suppose he would be happy for the music to have the immortality; he will be remembered with the greatest fondness and regret by all who had the good fortune to share his fascinations with him personally.
Stephen Kenyon (EGTA Guitar Journal no. 8 )