Tuesday 11 March 2014

Marion Thorpe CBE HonRCM

We are very sorry to report the death of Marion Thorpe on 6 March 2014, an RCM alumna and joint founder of the Leeds Piano Competition. 

She was born in 1926 in Vienna.  Her father, Erwin Stein, was a pupil of Schoenberg, and became a distinguished music editor.   She had a childhood that was immersed in music; Mahler was an acquaintance of her father, and became a large influence on her, as was Alban Berg, who would refer to her as his ‘little hazlenut’.   Her father later took a post at Boosey and Hawkes in London, with responsibility for publishing Benjamin Britten, who became a good friend of the family and a close friend of Marion herself.

Marion studied at the College from 1944 – 1945, studying piano with Kendall Taylor and composition with Herbert Howells.  She went on to play the piano professionally, forming a duo with Catherine Shanks and playing music for four hands.

In 1948, Marion met Britten’s friend George Lascelles, the 7th Lord Harewood, who was the Queen’s cousin, 11th in line to the throne and the President of the Aldeburgh Festival.  They married the following year, once the King’s consent had been granted; Britten wrote the wedding anthem for the ceremony.  They moved to Harewood House, north of Leeds and had three children.  Britten dedicated Billy Budd to the couple.

In 1961 Fanny Waterman had the idea for an international piano competition to be held in Leeds; she enlisted the help of Marion and together they co-founded the Leeds Piano Competition which has provided a platform for pianists such as Murray Perahia, Dmitri Alexeev, Mitsuko Uchida, Andras Schiff, Peter Donohue and Sofya Gulyak.  She persuaded Britten to write his Notturno, which all the contestants of the first competition had to play. As well as forming ‘the Leeds’ together, Marion and Fanny also wrote many volumes of piano lessons, which went on to become best-sellers.

Her marriage to Lord Harewood unravelled between the first and second competitions, resulting in a divorce in 1967; she later went on to marry Jeremy Thorpe, leader of the Liberal party, in 1973.

In 1986, Marion Thorpe was on the RCM’s Centenary Appeal Committee, raising significant funds to build the Britten Theatre.  She was able to attend the anniversary gala dinner in 2011.  She maintained a strong interest in the RCM all her life, and was awarded an HonRCM by our President HRH The Prince of Wales in 2005. She was awarded the CBE in 2008 for services to music.

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