Marion Thorpe: Pianist who fled the Nazis in 1938 before sacrificing her career for her family and going on to marry Jeremy Thorpe

 

Marion Thorpe maintained an elegant passage through life despite enduring more than her fair share of vicissitudes, none of her own making. Every one of them sprang from the men in her life: her father, the music publisher Erwin Stein; her first husband, George Lascelles, 7th Earl of Harewood; and her second, the 1970s Liberal party leader Jeremy Thorpe.

In her twenties, having studied at the Royal College of Music, she became a noted concert pianist, was photographed by Cecil Beaton and was serenaded at her wedding to Harewood in September 1949 with an anthem specially composed by Benjamin Britten, who conducted the piece at the ceremony.

An acknowledged beauty, she shone in the surge to restore music and the arts in Britain in the 1950s after the Second World War. She had suffered from that time more sorely than many of her audiences: at the age of 12 she had been torn from her home in Vienna in 1938 because her father was Jewish, and the family, obliged to flee the Nazis, settled in London. There Erwin Stein took a job with the music publisher Boosey and Hawkes and became an early mentor of Britten, then a rising star.

Her Viennese curtsey to Britten, charming him on her first meeting with him, became a story often told, and she remained a friend of his, despite his notorious tendency suddenly to drop acquaintances, until his death in 1976. It was through Britten, at the first of his festivals at Aldeburgh in Suffolk in 1948, that she met King George VI's musical nephew, George Lascelles, 11th in line to the throne and son of the king's sister, Princess Mary, and her husband Henry, the 6th Earl. They married at St Mark's Church, North Audley Street, Mayfair, the following year, and she became chatelaine of Harewood House, the Lascelles' magnificent pillared Georgian pile of more than 90 rooms near Leeds in West Yorkshire, built for Edwin Lascelles, a trader in the West Indies, in 1771.

She had become known for her performances of Mozart and Schubert pieces four-handed at one piano with the pianist Catherine Shanks, and she also played Bach and Mahler. But she relegated the concert career to second fiddle in favour of raising her family. She had three sons, and the music burst forth in a new direction. She engaged as their piano tutor the distinguished music teacher Fanny Waterman (now a Dame). The two shared not only their musicianship but a background of emigration from elsewhere: Waterman was the daughter of another Jewish refugee, her father, Myer Waterman, having come from Russia.

Shared interests sparked ideas, and gave rise in 1963 to the Leeds International Piano Competition, of which winners have included Radu Lupu and Murray Perahia. The competition takes place, as did an older Leeds Festival from 1874, every three years, and before it would next be staged, in 1966, Marion's world was to crumble for a second time in her life. By then her marriage had broken down. Lascelles had an affair with, and would later marry, Patricia Tuckwell, with whom he had a child, and in 1967 Marion at last agreed to a divorce.

The music, however, went on. With Fanny Waterman she produced a series of piano lesson-books, "Me and My Piano", that proved popular and have sold millions of copies.

Musical circles overlapped with political ones. Among those who moved in both was the pianist (later Dame) Moura Lympany, who is said to have introduced Marion in the early 1970s to the dashingly handsome violinist who happened to be leader of the Liberal Party, Jeremy Thorpe. The Eton- and Trinity College, Oxford-educated Thorpe, who took over the party from Jo Grimond in 1967, and was MP for North Devon, had been left a widower with one son after his first wife, Caroline Allpass, died in 1970 in a car accident.

Marion married Jeremy Thorpe at Paddington Register Office in February 1973, and campaigned with him in the Election of February 1974, which gave rise to a hung Parliament in which Thorpe held a pivotal place. He refused to join the government of the Conservative Edward Heath as Home Secretary, and a second election in October that year gave Labour under Harold Wilson a slender majority.

Her great gift to Thorpe over the turbulent years that followed, through his fall from public life, and his three decades darkened by illness, was her loyalty. No matter what might be said by those who opposed him, posterity must surely record that it says something for the quality of a man that he had such a wife.

The trial for attempted murder in 1976 of Andrew Newton, a former airline pilot, began a chain of events that brought Thorpe's career crashing down. Newton had shot and killed a great dane, Rinka, belonging to a male model called Norman Scott. Scott alleged that Thorpe had hired Newton to kill him in order to stop him revealing a homosexual affair in the 1960s – when such an affair could have attracted a criminal prosecution. Thorpe denied the affair, and was cleared of conspiracy to murder in 1979, but lost the party leadership and his North Devon seat. Three years later he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and Marion devoted herself to his care.

ANNE KELENY

Maria Donata Nanetta Paulina Gustava Ermina Wilhelmina Stein, pianist: born Vienna 18 October 1926; CBE 2008; married 1949 Earl of Harewood (divorced 1967; three sons), 1973 Jeremy Thorpe (one stepson); died Cobbaton, Devon 6 March 2014.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power