Gazette                                                                                                                                                 22 December, 1990

MY FIRST encounter with Paul Tortelier nearly 30 years ago had the most profound consequences on my life, writes Richard Markson [further to the obituary of Noël Goodwin and William Raynor, 20 December].  "It is a little late, but we shall manage," was his firm prediction after hearing me play and eliciting the information that I was 12 years old.


A dedicated musician and teacher who regarded the latter as inexorably appended to the former, Tortelier cherished his pupils at the Paris Conservatoire as his extended family.  The demanding concert schedule dictated by his world-wide recognition was manipulated and subjugated to the needs of his students.  "La Classe" served as the forum for musical and 'cellistic elucidation in which Tortelier unflaggingly compelled our total commitment.

With his indefatigable energy, it seemed perfectly natural for him to return from a performance late one night, as he did in Glasgow, and say: "...and now Richard, we shall work!"  Dinner was always a moveable feast, and on this occasion could only take place after a lesson in the use of continuous vibrato ended with a most moving performance of Bach's C minor Sarabande.

“Tortelier and Rostropovich are quite alike” Jacqueline du Pré told me when she called upon returning from Moscow, “the only difference is that in Tortelier’s class the women are constantly in tears and in Rostropovich’s, it is the men too.” 

Paul Tortelier

Tortelier never intended to upset his students but his impulsive temperament, when not applied to the cello, often got the better of him. My association began as a 12 year-old. “It is a leettle late but we will manage” was his prediction after persuading my mother that I must go immediately to Paris to study with him.

In the UK, Tortelier’s colourfully flamboyant televised master classes sustained his image as a star, but back at the Conservatoire his teaching style was markedly different. Only the students mattered and no teacher was more committed. By today’s standards his approach would be deemed autocratic. Before starting a new piece we were required to copy his markings assiduously. Deviation was not encouraged, but if you brought different ideas to the class his reaction would be one of the following:

“Mais non!!” or: “Bravo, may I copy your fingering?” and on one occasion: “That’s very expressive. What fingering do you use? Can I copy it?” Me: “Maître, it’s your fingering!” Pause, whilst he fingered it in his mind, then: “Oui, en effet!”

I was first introduced to Maud Tortelier when aged thirteen my mother had accompanied me to Paris for a lesson with her husband. She thanked my mother for looking after him in Glasgow.  “It was a pleasure”, said my mother. Glancing up at her husband who towered over her diminutive frame, she fixed my mother with a knowing stare: “Not such a pleasure!” was her qualified response delivered with a twinkle in her eye.

Maud Martin Tortelier

The twinkle in her eye was the key to many things. The Torteliers enlivened every conversation with humour: He, the actor, comedian, marvellous raconteur; She, contributing the impish sense of fun. That’s when they weren’t arguing of course, which they did frequently, colourfully and vociferously.

Maud was his muse - a fount of love, wisdom and strength that liberated his flamboyantly creative imagination; but with the capacity to bring him back to Planet Earth when required. Although as a cellist she possessed uniquely precious qualities of her own, she willingly subjugated her professional ambitions to those of her husband. She was fond of telling the story of how it all began:

TV interview


TV interview of Richard Markson by Fabrizio Ferrari


Cello Music Editions

A collection of music scores edited by Richard Markson