Born: February 25, 1890 - London, England
Died: November 25, 1965 - London, England
The Eminent English pianist, Dame Myra Hess, was a pupil of Julian Pascal and Orlando Morgan at the Guildhall School of Music in London. 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.
Myra Hess made her debut in November 1907, at the age of 17, in L.v. Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4, with Thomas Beecham conducting in London. The she performed throughout England. In 1922 she made her USA debut in New York. Thereafter she toured widely in Europe and the USA. In 1936 she was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Myra Hess was one of the best-known and most beloved of British pianists. 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 in 1939 the Gallery to the public for concerts every day during the lunch hours. Londoners flocked to these informal concerts. She 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. The effort was seen as a major boost to morale. In 1941 the grateful King George VI made her Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. It is said that when the artworks were returned to the Gallery in 1946, ending the musical series, that there was considerable disappointment.
After the War, Myra Hess commenced touring again and continued her notable career until her farewell concert in 1962. In addition to her solo engagements, and in a departure for pianists of her era, she also took a special interest in chamber music, including participating in a piano duo with her cousin Irene Scharrer.
In common with many artists Myra Hess 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. She was greatly admired for her interpretations of Mozart, L.v. Beethoven, and Robert Schumann. Her playing was noted for both warmth and thoughtfulness. She made numerous transcriptions, of which one in particular, J.S. Bach's chorale Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring from Cantata BWV 147 (published in 1926), has become an international favourite with her audience.