May Mukle was the first woman cellist to gain an international reputation as an artist of the first rank. May was born in London in 1880 to a family of professional musicians, who claimed Gipsy relatives. Her father, Leopold Mukle, was an expert organ builder, and the inventer of a coin operated music machine, the world's first "juke box."
May was already performing publicly by age nine. When she was thirteen she studied with Pezze at the Royal Academy of Music, where she won all the prizes available to cellists. When she was seventeen she was elected an A.R.A.M. She soon became internationally famous as a performer, sometimes being called "the female Casals," by the press.
Mukle and her sister Anne, a pianist, formed a trio with the American violinist Maud Powell; and they toured successfully in South Africa and America. She was responsible for several first performances of important cello works, including the Ravel and Kodaly duos (in Great Britain). Ralph Vaughan Williams dedicated his Six Studies in English Folk Song to her. She gave the first performance with her sister Anne in June of 1926 at the Scala Theatre in London.
She performed on a beautiful, rich toned Montagnana, which had been given to her by an anonymous donor. She was invited to choose any instrument from the Hill collection, and the Montagnana had been her choice. It was a very large cello, but she had no difficulty handling it. Mukle was committed to the growth of cello playing among others of her sex, and would sometimes lend her extraordinary cello to gifted female students playing important recitals or concerts. She was also well known for her hospitality, and her flat became frequented by many other musicians, including Vaughan Williams, John Ireland, Ravel and Pablo Casals, who was a close friend.
Mukle continued to perform and tour, even in her late seventies. In 1959, at the age of 79, she was in a car accident, and suffered a broken wrist, along with other injuries. Nevertheless, she started playing again, as soon as she had recovered sufficiently. She died in 1963, at the age of 83. The Royal Academy of Music in London awards the May Mukle prize yearly, in her memory, to a deserving student.
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