Sunday, September 26

The mystery of Anja Thauer, the greatest cellist you’ve never heard of | Music

reOr do we listen to music differently if there is a tragedy in the life story of its composer or performer? And if we do, are we giving that music a melancholy, an insight, and sometimes even a grandeur that doesn’t exist?

Here are some of the thoughts I had while researching the little-known German cellist Anja Thauer for a BBC Radio 3 documentary: The myth and mystery of Anja Thauer. She was a child prodigy who went to the Paris Conservatoire in 1960 at age 15, won the Grand Prix and immediately began touring internationally. Fame seemed inevitable. Deutsche Grammophon hired her, only to sideline her in favor of the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who came to the label in 1968 and was released with the same piece Thauer had just recorded and released: Dvořák’s Cello Concerto. It was to be her last album, although she was hired to release two more, and she continued to tour until her suicide in 1973.

The “myth” in the show’s title refers to how Thauer has managed to keep a small place in music history, as a cult figure among record collectors in East Asia, paying dazzling sums. for original copies of his three albums. “A blessed cellist gave the world her gift. It destroyed her. It became a myth in Japan. “So reads the inscription on a commemorative plaque in the cemetery near Lübeck where Thauer’s urn is buried. It was placed there last year by an amateur musicologist named Hans-Joachim Köthe, a 90-year-old former notary public who has been a member of the International Grand Lodge of Druidism since 1958 and has dedicated his retirement to discovering more about Thauer.

Anja Thauer album cover that sparked an investigation into her life.

Anja Thauer album cover that sparked an investigation into her life.

Photographer: Klaus Zimmermann Deutsche Grammophon

The “mystery” refers to why Thauer’s work remains so little known elsewhere. Köthe has a theory: that her mother Ruth, a violinist who forged a career under the Third Reich, intentionally concealed her daughter’s legacy after her suicide. There is much anecdotal evidence to support his claim – Thauer’s musical roles, his “nachlass,” are not in the public domain – but there is no clear reason for Ruth’s actions. He died in 1990. The critic Tully potter He describes her as “strict, domineering, even exploitative” and believes that “this is the absolute classic story of the prodigy… Anja, an only child, never had the opportunity to have a normal adolescence. She seems to have been very lonely. “The pianist Claude Françaix, who played with Anja in the 1960s, says:” Her mother projected onto her talented daughter her own ambitions of an illustrious career … In some respects, Anja remained a child dominated by his mother”.

Thauer’s music is available digitally. In 2015, Deutsche Grammophon reissued his recordings: Anja performing Fantasie by Claude’s father, Jean Françaix, Reger’s Third Suite for cello and Dvořák’s Concerto with the Czech Philharmonic, conducted by Zdeněk Mácal. Also, the German label Hastedt Music Edition He has done a fantastic job in the last decade unearthing unreleased radio recordings from his entire career. And yet Thauer still doesn’t have an English Wikipedia page; alone a short review in German who uses the word bad love – love sickness – in connection with his death. She had had an affair with a married doctor in Wiesbaden, where she lived, and he too committed suicide five days after her.

Little is known about their relationship or who broke it up. Some say it was the doctor, to save their marriage; others that Thauer’s mother insisted that it came to an end. It’s another mystery in a complex and steamy story, and it has resulted in cello fans and researchers turning to his music to try to assess who Thauer was. On his recording of Dvořák, Potter says: “I think I know practically all the performances of the Dvořák Concerto to some extent. She is in the top 10: the orchestra is wonderful, she is absolutely inside it. She was a great player. ” Others express different opinions. Julian Lloyd Webber thinks it’s “pretty fast, but very fine.” German cellist Michael Schlechtriem says he loved it as a child, but when he heard it recently he found it “tough” and “almost angry”. But he adds that among cellists there is still talk of Thauer: “She is known a bit as the German Jacqueline du Pré.”

There are striking parallels between the stories of Thauer and Du Pré. Both were born in 1945, they studied in Paris at the same time, and their careers ended the same month, October 1973, with Thauer’s death and Du Pré’s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. These coincidences have led to speculation of a rivalry and the theory that Thauer was kicked out of the male-dominated 1960s classical music scene because of Du Pré’s fame. Not so, says Elizabeth Wilson, a biographer and friend of Du Pré: “There are several reasons why they didn’t get the same opportunities. One is that Du Pré began his career in London, the musical center of the world then. The other thing we have to remember is that Du Pré’s career was based in Great Britain, but he was also very well known in America.

Thauer was not well known in America, she never played there, but it is curious that she has languished in the dark as each Jacqueline du Pré anniversary profile adds more fuel to her already explosive myth.

With so little information about Thauer, I too found myself looking for clues about his personality in his playing. I did not hear introspection, nor any kind of macabre foresight of his own destiny. His Dvořák is wonderfully loud and all the better for it. Recorded when he was 23 years old, it is an eruption of youthful energy, joy and promise that brilliantly captures the great passions and anxieties of a moment in time: the late 1960s. His story is not about greatness; it’s about “greatness not being released,” as Potter puts it, and that’s the most devastating story of all.

  • The myth and mystery of Anja Thauer is underway BBC Radio 3 on November 22 at 6.45pm and on BBC Sounds.

  • In the UK, Samaritans can be reached by calling 116 123 and the domestic abuse helpline is 0808 2000 247. In Australia, the Lifeline crisis support service is at 13 11 14 and The National Family Violence Counseling Service is 1800 737 732. In the United States, the Suicide Prevention Helpline is 1-800-273-8255 and the Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799- SAFE (7233). Other international helplines can be found through

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