Cynthia Midgley obituary

Other Lives: Viola player with professional quartets and chamber orchestras

My mother, Cynthia Midgley, who has died aged 96, was a professional viola player with various quartets and chamber orchestras in the 1940s and early 50s and, after a break to raise her family, returned to music in the 70s and 80s with the Scottish Baroque Ensemble and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra before her retirement.

She was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in British India to Caroline Freeman, a nurse working as a nanny for the Muirs, a Scottish jute merchant’s family. Having got pregnant when not married, Caroline was told to give up the baby or be dismissed. She left and found a nursing post at Eden hospital, where Cynthia was born. Baptised in St Paul’s Cathedral in Calcutta, Cynthia was given a moonstone bracelet by the Maharaja of Cooch Behar.

At three months old Cynthia was brought to England, where her mother had secured a live-in position as a nurse in a maternity (later nursing) home in St Leonards-on-Sea, on the south coast.

She showed exceptional early musical talent, and at 13 won a scholarship to Brighton School of Music. At 16 she was invited by her violin teacher, Isolde Menges, to take up a subsidised place at her residential school of violin playing in Barnes, south-west London. In 1940 the nursing home where Cynthia’s mother worked was destroyed by a bomb; her mother survived and later moved to live with Cynthia in London.

In 1942 Cynthia won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music. Her great love was chamber music, and on leaving college she became a professional viola player, first in the Boyd Neel Orchestra, then the Vivien Hind Quartet, the St George Quartet and the Kalmar Orchestra. She also played regularly in the pit at the Old Vic theatre in London, accompanying plays starring and directed by Laurence Olivier.

Cynthia Midgley (second from left) with other members of the Vivien Hind Quartet in the late 1940s
Cynthia Midgley (second from left) with other members of the Vivien Hind Quartet in the late 1940s Photograph: From family

Cynthia was a striking woman: 6ft tall, she loved wearing red dresses. Her musical career brought her into contact with many interesting people and she had a two-year relationship with the writer JB Priestley before meeting my father, John Midgley, a PhD student in physics at Imperial College London, in 1953. They married in 1954 and I was born in 1955.

When John secured a research position at English Electric, near Leicester, the family, including Cynthia’s mother, moved to the Midlands, where John and Cynthia had two more children, my brothers Nick and Tom.

In 1968 John took up a position at Edinburgh University, and we all moved to Scotland. It was there that Cynthia returned to her professional career, playing in and touring overseas with the Scottish Baroque Ensemble (later Scottish Ensemble) and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra until retiring in the mid-80s. She then went part-time and taught violin for a period.

John died in 2002. Cynthia is survived by three children and two grandchildren.

Clare Midgley

The GuardianTramp

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