Moura Lympany was born Mary Gertrude Johnstone. Her father, Captain John Johnstone, who had served in World War I, would appear to have been accurate when he told his wife that he would not make a good husband; at any rate it was she who had to support the family (two sons were born after Moura) and who single-handedly guided her daughterís early career. An intelligent and cultivated woman, Beatrice Limpenny had been a tutor to the children of a banker in St Petersburg, Russia, but returned to England in 1915 during World War I. Wanting her daughter to receive the best education and to learn languages, Beatrice, who originally taught her the piano, sent Moura to a convent in Belgium when she was barely 7 years old. Young Moura could already speak French, and when the nuns noticed her talent for music and the piano in particular, they arranged for her to have lessons at the Liège Conservatory. By the age of 9 Moura was practising five hours a day and playing J.S. Bachís Das wohltemperierte Klavier in its entirety.
Moura Lympany returned to London where she began piano lessons with Ambrose Coviello, a professor at the Royal Academy of Music in London, who suggested that she apply for the Ada Lewis Scholarship to the Academy. Lympany duly won this. Meanwhile she had asked to play for conductor Basil Cameron who immediately hired the 12-year-old to play Felix Mendelssohnís Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor Op. 25, the only concerto she had memorised up to that point. She made her concert debut with him at Harrogate in 1929, playing this concerto. It was Basil Cameron who suggested that she adopt a stage name for the concert and an old spelling of her mother's maiden name, Limpenny, was chosen. Entering the Royal Academy of Music at 13, Lympany continued her piano studies with Coviello, graduating in 1932 and winning both the Challen Gold Medal for piano and the Hine Prize for composition. That year she played Griegís Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 16 with the Academy Orchestra conducted by Henry J. Wood.
Moura Lympany then travelled to Vienna for nine months where she studied piano with Paul Weingarten (1886-1948) and in the following year she entered the Liszt Competition in Budapest but was not placed (it was the year that Annie Fischer won first prize). She returned to England and continued her studies with Coviello; but perhaps because Lympany had had the same teacher for a length of time, her mother decided that she should have some lessons from Mathilde Verne (1868-1936) who had studied with Clara Schumann. Under Verneís tutelage, Lympany made her London debut at Wigmore Hall in May 1935, and also played Schumannís Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 54 with Thomas Beecham. Lympany studied with Verne for a year, and upon Verneís death, she began studies with Tobias Matthay (1858-1945) who was one of her greatest influences. After two years of the ten she studied with him, he suggested she enter the Ysaÿe Piano Competition in Brussels, where she won in 1938 second place to Emil Gilels, the outright winner. Jury member Arthur Rubinstein had his agent arrange a tour of Europe for Lympany in the year preceding World War II.
By World War II, Moura Lympany was one of the UK's most popular pianists. The war slowed her career, but she played in Britain to help the war effort. In 1940 she was asked to give the first performance in Britain of the Piano Concerto in D-flat by Khachaturian. She learnt it in a month and played it at the Queenís Hall on April 13, 1940 and again in January 1941. With this concerto Lympany caused a sensation in Britain comparable with that engendered by William Kapell with the same work in America. She played it all over the country and recorded it for Decca, later giving first performances of it in Paris, Milan, Brussels and Australia. She had been approached when Clifford Curzon pleaded he would not be able to learn it in time. Along with Ďmoderní Russian music, Lympany was also getting a reputation for playing British music including the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Alan Rawsthorne and the Piano Concerto by John Ireland. During her career she championed such British composers as Benjamin Britten, Richard Arnell, Frederick Delius, and Malcolm Williamson. In 1945 Lympany and Adrian Boult were the first British musicians to perform in Paris after the liberation and the following year Lympany represented Britain at the Prague Music Festival.
In 1944 Moura Lympany married Colin Defries, but they divorced in 1950. In 1951 she married Bennet Korn, an American television executive, and moved to the USA. Lympany very much wanted to start a family but she had two miscarriages, and a son who died shortly after birth. She and Bennet Korn divorced in 1961. Some years later she became a close friend of the politician and amateur musician, Edward Heath, and mutual friends expressed hopes that they might marry, but this did not happen.
With her recordings preceding her, Mora Lympany became more widely known After World War II, performing throughout Europe and in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and India. She made her recital debut at New Yorkís Town Hall in November 1948. When living in New York, she continued her concert and recording career. Lympany was a Steinway pianist and participated in the Steinway Centenary Concert on October 19, 1953 in which ten Steinway pianists played a Polonaise by Chopin. The rehearsal of this piece was recorded and broadcast on Ed Sullivan's television show, at that time called Toast of the Town. In the early 1950ís she gave fewer concerts; some in America and Britain, and in 1956 a short tour of Russia and Czechoslovakia as soloist with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. She also took some lessons from Edward Steuermann at this time. After a five-week tour of Australia in 1960, her second marriage ended and she returned to London to recommence her career, but did not find this an easy task.
In 1969 Moura Lympany was diagnosed with breast cancer and her left breast was removed. Three months after the operation she performed Cyril Scottís Piano Concerto and Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 4 for the Left Hand at the Royal Festival Hall, London. She was dissatisfied with her performance, so she sought out assistance with her playing from Ilona Kabós. Fortified by Kabósís help, Lympany gave a recital at Londonís Queen Elizabeth Hall in January 1972 where she played Haydnís Piano Sonata in E minor, Schumannís Piano Sonata in F sharp minor Op. 11, and Chopinís Préludes. She had a second mastectomy but continued working and gained renewed popularity. In 1973 she first visited Rasiguères, a village near Perpignan in Southern France. She was sent there on health grounds, but quickly fell in love with the village and bought a house and vineyard there, dividing her time between it and her other home in Monte Carlo. In 1979, fifty years after making her debut, she performed at the Royal Festival Hall for Charles, Prince of Wales and the following year she was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).
In 1980 (or 1981) Moura Lympany inaugurated Rasiguères Festival of Music and Wine (for which the Manchester Camerata was resident orchestra), which ran for 10 years. She also assisted Prince Louis de Polignac to establish, in 1986, the Festival des Sept Chapelles in Guidel, Brittany. From the mid-1980ís she was based in Monaco. Moura - Her Autobiography, written with her cousin, author Margot Strickland, was published by Peter Owen in 1991. 1989 saw heragain at Londonís Festival Hall, this time celebrating the 60th anniversary of her debut. The Chopin recital she gave received excellent reviews. In 1992 she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE). She also received honours from the Belgian, French, and Portuguese governments. At the age of 78 Lympany was still giving concerts. She gave a bravura performance of Sergei Rachmaninovís Piano Concerto No. 2 Op. 18 at the Proms in 1994. In Boston she played a programme that included Book II of Johannes Brahmsí Variations on a theme of Paganini Op. 35 and Franz Lisztís Polonaise in E major. On the occasion of her 80th birthday Lympany was awarded Portugalís highest honour, the Medal and Cross of Prince Henry the Navigator. It was at this time that she decided to play the piano no longer. Dame Moura Lympany died in Gorbio near Menton, France, in 2005, aged 88. Her archive was deposited in the International Piano Archive at the University of Maryland, College Park.
One of the finest of British pianists, Moura Lympany had a repertoire that was based on the Romantics. She came to prominence with the Piano Concerto by Khachaturian and S. Rachmaninovís Concertos Nos 2 and 3, but played at least sixty works for piano and orchestra, with a solo repertoire running from Mozart to Arnold Schoenberg.
Moura Lympany recorded for Decca from the early 1940ís. She recorded virtuoso works such as Dohnányiís Capriccio in F minor in 1943, and Balakirevís Islamey in 1947. She was asked to record the complete préludes of S. Rachmaninov, and when long-playing records appeared, she recorded them again. A third recording was made for Erato in 1993. By the mid-1950ís Decca had recordings of Lympany in Piano Concertos by Khachaturian, S. Rachmaninov and Camille Saint-Saëns in their long-playing catalogue. The Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor Op. 30 by S. Rachmaninov is particularly good for its clarity of both piano and orchestral playing, and it was reissued on compact disc by Olympia along with EMI concerto recordings from the mid-1950ís of works by S. Rachmaninov (his Concertos Nos 1 and 2) and Prokofiev (Concertos Nos 1 and 3). Other EMI recordings from the late 1940s and early 1950s include a sparkling F. Mendelssohnís Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor Op. 25. Lympanyís effortless technique in the last movement is breathtaking. That work, and Litolffís famous Scherzo from his Concerto Symphonique No. 4 in D minor Op. 102 were recorded again in the mid-1960ís by Readerís Digest and reissued on compact disc by Ivory Classics with F. Lisztís Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major and Fallaís Noches en los jardines de España. The period when Lympanyís private and professional life was under strain produced some acceptable but musically detached recordings such as the complete Nocturnes of Chopin, recorded for EMI/Angel in September 1960, and the complete Waltzes recorded in New York in 1958.
In January 1988 Moura Lympany recorded a disc of popular piano favourites for EMI. This disc, and a companion second volume recorded in March 1990, is the most delightful of recordings. They encapsulate Lympanyís talent, displaying a depth of musicality and tone that seem to have matured with age. Three years later she recorded a disc of Debussy for EMI and at the same time, whilst she was at Abbey Road Studios, she recorded for Erato S. Rachmaninovís complete Préludes for the third time. Lympany kept up her technique and this version of the Préludes has as much to offer as the Decca LP version. Her last recording was made in 1995 for Erato, when she was nearly eighty. Undaunted by technical challenges, Lympany recorded Chopinís complete Préludes Op. 28 and a selection of seven of his Études.
A succession of reissues of Moura Lympany archive recordings has contributed to both maintaining her reputation and introducing her to post-LP generations including CDís issued by Dutton (Mozart Piano Concertos K.414 and K.467), Ivory Classics (F. Mendelssohn, Litolff, F. Liszt), Olympia (S. Rachmaninov and Prokofiev), Pristine Audio (C. Saint-Saënsí Piano Concerto No. 2) and Testament (S. Rachmaninovís Preludes). Other notable recordings: J. Brahms: Intermezzi (EMI); Alan Rawsthorne: Piano Concerto No. 1 (HMV); Schubert: Piano Quintet in A "The Trout" - with principals of the London Philharmonic Orchestra (EMI).