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


reo Do we hear music differently if there is a tragedy in the life story of its composer or performer? And if we do, do we give that music a melancholy, insight, and sometimes even grandeur, isn’t it?These are some of the thoughts I had while researching little-known German cellist Anja Thauer for a BBC Radio 3 documentary, The Myth and Mystery of Anja Thauer. She is a child prodigy who entered the Paris Conservatory in 1960 at the age of 15, won the Grand Prix and immediately embarked on international tours. Fame seemed inevitable. Deutsche Grammophon signed it, to put it aside for the benefit of the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who arrived on the label in 1968 and was released with the same track Thauer had just recorded and released – the 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 program’s title refers to how Thauer managed to maintain a small place in music history – as an ultra-cult figure among record collectors in East Asia, who pay impressive sums for the original copies of his three albums. “A blessed cellist has given the world a gift. It broke her. It has become a myth in Japan. So reads the inscription on a commemorative plaque in the cemetery near Lübeck where Thauer’s urn is buried. He was placed there last year by an amateur musicologist called Hans-Joachim Köthe – a 90-year-old former notary who has been a member of the Grand Lodge of International Druidism since 1958 and has devoted his retirement to learning more about Thauer. .

Cover of Anja Thauer’s album that sparked an investigation into her life.
Photo: Klaus Zimmermann Deutsche Grammophon

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

Thauer’s music is available digitally. In 2015, Deutsche Grammophon reissued his recordings – Anja performing Fantasie du père by Claude Jean Françaix, Third Suite for Cello by Reger and the Concerto by Dvořák with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Zdeněk Mácal. In addition, German label Hastedt Musikedition has done a fantastic job over the past decade unearthing unreleased radio recordings from his entire career. And yet, Thauer still does not have an English Wikipedia page; just a short article in German that uses the word love sickness – love sickness – in relation to his death. She had had an affair with a married doctor in Wiesbaden, where she lived, and he also 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 her marriage; others that Thauer’s mother insisted that this end. It’s another mystery in a complex and steamy story, and it has caused cello fans and researchers alike to turn to his music to try and get a feel for who Thauer was. Of his recording of Dvořák, Potter says: “I think I know practically every performance of Dvořák’s Concerto to some extent. She’s in the top 10: the orchestra is wonderful, she’s absolutely inside. She was an excellent player. Others express different opinions. Julian Lloyd Webber thinks it’s “a pretty lively game, but very good”. German cellist Michael Schlechtriem says he loved him as a child, but when he listened to him recently he found him “harsh” and “almost angry.” But he adds that Thauer is still talked about among cellists: “She is a little known as Jacqueline du Pré from Germany.

There are strange parallels between the stories of Thauer and Du Pré. They were both born in 1945, studied in Paris around 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 led to the speculation of a rivalry and a theory that Thauer was ousted from the classic 60s male-dominated music scene by Du Pré’s fame. No, says Elizabeth Wilson, biographer and friend of Du Pré: “There are a number of reasons why they didn’t take advantage of the same opportunities. The first is that Du Pré started his career in London – the music center of the world at the time. The other thing we have to remember is that Du Pré’s career was based in Britain, but also that it was very well known in America.

Thauer was not well known in the United States – she never performed there – but it is curious that she languished in the dark as each anniversary profile of Jacqueline du Pré spills more gasoline on her myth. already explosive.

With so little information about Thauer, I, too, found myself searching for clues to his personality in his game. I didn’t hear any soul-searching, or any sort of gruesome prediction of his own fate. His Dvořák is wonderfully rowdy, and all is better for that. Recorded at the age of 23, it is an eruption of youthful energy, joy and promise that brilliantly captures the passions and anxieties of a moment in time – the late 1960s. don’t talk about greatness; this is “the greatness that does not come out” as Potter puts it, and it is the most devastating story of all.

  • The Myth and Mystery of Anja Thauer is on BBC Radio 3 on November 22 at 6:45 p.m. and on BBC Sounds.
  • In the UK, Samaritans can be reached on 116 123 and the Domestic Violence Hotline is 0808 2000 247. In Australia, the Lifeline Crisis Support is on 13 11 14 and National Domestic Violence Counseling Service is 1-800-737-732, Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255 and Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799 -SAFE (7233). Other international helplines can be found at


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here