The mysterious life and death of a brilliant young pianist

12 September 2017, 09:20

On 11 April 1927 a young pianist made her very first recording at a studio in Chicago. Less than two weeks later, she was found dead just outside Paris. This is the tragic story of Marion Roberts.

In 1927 the Chicago ran the headline ‘Kills Chicago Girl and Self in Paris Tryst’:

‘Police tonight are convinced that Miss Marion Roberts of Oak Park, Illinois, found shot to death in an automobile near Paris early today, was killed by Julian Meredith of Buffalo, NY, her fiancé, who then turned the pistol on himself.’

Just two weeks earlier, Marion had been making her first recording at the Columbia Company in Chicago.

So how did such a promising pianist meet such a tragic death?

Marion Roberts was born in 1901 and quickly began making her names as a musician. She studied at the American Conservatory of Music with Adolf Weidig (composition) and Louise Robyn (piano) before heading cross the Atlantic to continue her studies in Paris.

While there she met and began studying with the legendary pianist Alfred Cortot.

It was in Paris that she met Julian Meredith, the man who would go on to kill her on a quiet road outside the city.

When they met, he was a married war veteran and, apparently, a keen singer. He got divorced and soon afterwards Julian and Marion became engaged. The couple returned to the US some time in late 1926.

On 11 April 1927 Marion made her first recording. It was to be her last.

She played César Franck’s Prélude, choral et fugue for the Chicago Gramophone Society and the Columbia Company pressed 200 copies of Marion’s recording to send to the society’s members.

Here's part of her recording

 
You can hear the full recording on the British Library's website

On 13 April, Marion sailed from New York to Le Havre.

Here we can hand the story over to Nick Morgan, an academic who’s researched Marion’s story:

“Marion Roberts sailed from New York for Le Havre (also on board was Wanda Landowska), where she was met on the 22nd of April by Meredith. He whisked her back to Paris in his car and introduced her to his landlady, who thought the couple seemed very much in love. But the staff of a restaurant outside Paris, where they drove that same afternoon, sensed tension between them.”

A a quarry worker found their bodies the following day.

Here’s how the Chicago Tribune reported the story:

“The couple was found at dawn, the small automobile recently purchased by Meredith standing near the Chateau de la Barre not far from Rambouillet. Miss Roberts was dead with three bullets in the head. Meredith, a bullet wound in the temple still breathed faintly. The girl’s body was behind the wheel. Meredith was at her right, the automatic pistol still dangling in his right hand.”

No valuables were missing and the police discovered that Julian had recently bought the gun and a box of cartridges. So they were satisfied that he had killed Marion before killing himself.

However, the final paragraph of the Tribune story throws some doubt on this clean-cut story:

“Police found only one disturbing element in their murder and suicide theory, the fact that while Meredith was found at the right of Miss Roberts’ body, one bullet had struck her from the left, while the other two entered her head from the right.”

Whatever happened to Marion, happily, her music lives on in her recording, no housed at the British Library. You can read more about the British Library’s Classical Music collection here.

Images: Chicago Tribune

Thank you to the British Library for use of the Marion Roberts recording

British Library logo