Sombre news: Marion Thorpe has died

We have been informed by close friends of the death, early today, of a significant figure in British music and public life. Marion Thorpe was 87.

Vienna born, she was the daughter of Erwin Stein, the music publisher and musicologist who became an early mentor to Benjamin Britten. She was one of the few people Britten trusted throughout his life.

A noted beauty, Marion married the Earl of Harewood, a cousin of the Queen and a Britten friend who was director of the Royal Opera. Living on his estate, near Leeds, she co-founded with Fanny Waterman the Leeds International Piano Competition.

When her marriage to Harewood broke up, Marion married the politician Jeremy Thorpe, whose career ended in the high courts.

She is survived by Thorpe, and her three sons.

jeremy thorpe

 

UPDATE: Obituaries (two days later) musical here and political here. A personal reminiscence here.

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  • Where was this 1959 London First night? I wondered if the photograph was of a reception related to the TV production of the opera in 1959. Lord Harewood introduced the broadcast, the production was by Peter Morley, both identified in the caption of the photograph together with Benjamin Britten, Lord Harewood and the late Marion Thorpe (known as much for being an accomplished pianist as “a noted beauty”). I assume that the unidentified person on the right of the photograph is Charles Mackerras, the conductor of the broadcast.

  • I met Marion Thorpe at the Red House when I was on a course given by Murray Perahia in 1993. We were being shown everything to do with Britten, his chair, his desk, etc and it was rather dutiful and boring, when a lady’s voice next to me said, “Would you like to see the garden?” I turned round and saw a really beautiful face, beckoning in the direction of some french windows.

    We left the group and opened the window and into the garden, whereupon the lady immediately rummaged through her handbag, produced a crumpled pack of cigarettes and offered me one. We shared a very companionable smoke as we walked around the garden chatting about nothing in particular, me thinking that this sort of guide was much nicer than the one indoors. We got around to Britten again and I asked her if she had ever met him.

    “Oh yes, ” she replied, “he was one of my closest friends”.

    Taking a stunned drag from my fag I offered lamely “What was he like?”

    “Oh, he was wonderful. You would have liked him. He had that gift of making you feel you were the most special person in the room, but if you said something he didn’t like he could be, well, a little tricky. I liked your playing in the class, by the way. Another cigarette?”

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