Dame Myra Hess
• 1890 — 1965
Often appears with
Dame Myra Hess was one of the best-known and most beloved of British pianists. She was a pupil of Julian Pascal and Orlando Morgan. At 12 she earned a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music and became a pupil of Tobias Matthay, whom she viewed as her primary teacher.
She debuted at the age of 17 in Beethoven's Fourth Concerto, with Thomas Beecham conducting. In a departure for pianists of her era she took a special interest in chamber music, including participating in a piano duo with her cousin Irene Scharrer. She toured Europe and the United States.
She was a warm person and well liked, particularly in English-speaking countries, and visited America frequently. Her reputation was particularly enhanced by her innovative and deeply appreciated venture during World War II, the National Gallery Concerts. Wartime blackouts closed the concert halls of London. In the meantime, the National Gallery in London had been emptied of its art treasures, which were sent to parts of the country less vulnerable to German bombing. It was Hess's idea to open the Gallery to the public for concerts every day during the lunch hours.
Londoners flocked to these informal concerts. Hess arranged concerts from solo recitals to full-scale orchestral and choral music. She personally appeared more than any other artist (never asking for a fee), and got some of the finest musicians of the country to appear there. She received her knighthood as a Dame of the British Empire for this service in 1942. The effort was seen as a major boost to morale, and it is said that when the artworks were returned to the Gallery in 1946, ending the musical series, that there was considerable disappointment.
In common with many artists she adopted a wide-ranging repertory, including much music of her time, when she was younger, but focused increasingly on the great classic masters in later years. Her playing was noted for both warmth and thoughtfulness. She made numerous transcriptions, of which one in particular, Bach's chorale prelude Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring from Cantata 147, has become an international favorite.