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?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

MBDA UK Ltd: Test Systems Design Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity?MBDA has en...

MBDA UK Ltd: PCB Technologies Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity?MBDA has en...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Reprographics Assistant

£12500 - £13500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest independent reprogr...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor