Obituary: Hester Dickson Martineau, musician and teacher

Hester Dickson Martineau, skilled musician and teacher who provided inspiration for students and friends. Picture: Contributed
Hester Dickson Martineau, skilled musician and teacher who provided inspiration for students and friends. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 22 July, 1924 in Edinburgh. Died: 10 December, 2015 in Edinburgh. Aged 91

Born and brought up in Edinburgh, Hester Dickson was the third of four children born to Douglas Dickson, an eminent lawyer, and his wife Mari. They were a typical professional Edinburgh family of their time and they lived the life of a typical Edinburgh lawyer’s family in the Georgian splendour of their New Town home. One aspect of the Dickson family was, however, far from typical, and that was their extraordinary musical talent. Alongside his career as a WS, Douglas Dickson was a wonderful musician who counted Sir Adrian Boult and Donald Tovey amongst his close friends.

Adrian Boult was Hester’s godfather and her first son was named after him. Sunday morning chamber music was as natural and enjoyable to the Dicksons as the Sunday lunch which followed .

All of the Dickson children grew up to be excellent musicians but Hester and her cellist sister, Joan chose to make music their profession. They went on to become two of Britain’s most loved and highly regarded chamber musicians and mentors.

After completing a B Mus at Edinburgh University, Hester went to the Royal Academy of Music in London where she studied piano with Harold Craxton and viola with Bernard Shore. From there she could have continued to develop her formidable talents on a national and international scale, but this was not her life plan. Hester was passionate about music but she was also passionate about people, so didn’t want to focus only on the development of her own talent. Hester returned to Edinburgh where she married Laurence Poole, a young lawyer and fellow student from her time at Edinburgh University.

Hester subsequently spent seven happy years combining family life (she and Laurence had a baby son Adrian), with professional life in a cello/piano duo with Joan. Sadly, when Adrian was only four, Lawrence succumbed to the late effects of a childhood illness. As a young widow Hester continued to play professionally with Joan and she also spent some time as a very popular matron at Adrian’s prep school.

In 1959 Hester married her second husband, Canon George Martineau, a widower with four children. In 1960 they welcomed a son Malcolm – who joined a combined family of five boys and one girl. Again Hester successfully combined her family life with superb chamber music playing but this time there was a third element – as a parson’s wife..

Tragically, history repeated itself when George died in 1969 – just before Malcolm’s ninth birthday.

Hester and Malcolm had to move out of the Manse and at that point she was invited to join the staff of the RSAMD (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland). This coincided with my arrival at the RSAMD to embark on post grad cello study with Joan. I needed somewhere to live and Hester needed someone to help look after Malcolm. Joan introduced us and Hester became simultaneously my landlady, my teacher and a lifelong friend.

To say that Hester helped me over the next few years would be an understatement. I was the first of hundreds of students for whom she became the most significant person in those vital, and sometimes, turbulent years. Hester’s extraordinary musicianship, combined with her warm and compassionate personality, enabled her to guide and encourage every student she taught – from the supremely talented to those who really struggled .

Many students have occupied my old bedroom at 2 Bellevue Terrace, sometimes for a weekend of extra coaching, sometimes if they were between flats and sometimes just for a few hot meals and some TLC. The door was always open.

Hester also counted many eminent musicians as friends and they often spurned 5-star hotel accommodation in favour of Hester’s humble spare room – and the two enormous grand pianos in the wonderfully shambolic drawing room.

Hester coached at the academy for 45 years – always leaving Waverley on the 6:30am train and always enjoying her bacon butty in the academy buffet before starting her day.

She retired in the spring of 2014 – just before her 90th birthday.

Hester’s health and memory steadily declined in the past 18 months but the twinkle in her eye did not diminish. Malcolm and friends recently gave a concert at Cluny Lodge, which has been Hester’s home for the past year. Hester told one of her carers that the piece Malcolm had just played was part of a sonata. The carer asked Hester: “What, exactly is a sonata?” Hester looked at her, head on one side and a twinkle in her eye, “ If you had attended all your classes you would know what a sonata is – so I’m afraid I’m not going to tell you !”

Hester is survived by her brother, two sons, a granddaughter, two great grandsons and a large extended step family.

She will be sorely missed by them and their partners – along with her many friends and ex students.

A concert befitting Hester’s memory will be arranged in the New Year.