Marius May: Sovereign Voice

marius 68

Marius May, who died last year, led the generation of British cellists that emerged after Jacqueline du Pré. Here, Simon May tells the story of his younger brother’s astonishing flowering as a teenage musical talent, and his eventual decision to withdraw from performing life

Aged five, my brother Marius was handed a quarter-size cello and bow by our mother, the violinist Maria Lidka. She had decided that one violinist in the family was enough, and he was assigned the cello on the grounds that he had the right fingers for that instrument.

To her astonishment, within days he was holding the bow in the elegant and effortless way that she would later labour to instil in her teenage students at the Royal College of Music in London. Marius did intuitively what musicians several times his age would need hours of practice to master. His left hand, too, moved up and down the fingerboard with the naturalness of an outrageous talent. Almost from the beginning he had a tone of sensuous clarity, at once seductive, revelatory, insightful, and refusing all intercourse with sentimentality.

Our mother held, with the force of religious dogma, that if you undertook something it had to be ‘the very best’. It was a conviction she had inherited from her parents – highly cultivated German Jews who had raised her in Berlin…

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