Sue Young Histories

Julia Myra Hess 1890 – 1965

July 08, 2010

Dame Julia Myra Hess DBE 1890 – 1965 was a British pianist.

Myra Hess was a patient of homeopaths Marjorie Blackie and Charles Yarrow Eccles,

Myra Hess was a close friend of Vera and Judy Compton Burnett, the sisters of Ivy Compton Burnett, and the daughters of James Compton Burnett, who enabled Myra to find her feet and accommodation in London when she first came to the city, (Vera and Judy Compton Burnett were also students of Tobias Matthay),

Four Compton Burnett sisters and Myra Hess lived together in London for over twenty years,

Julia Margaret Hess was born on 25 November 1890 to a Jewish family in Kilburn, London. The youngest of four children, she began playing the piano from an early age, starting lessons when she was five.

She was born in London as Julia Myra Hess, but was best-known by her middle name. At the age of five she began to study the piano and two years later entered the Guildhall School of Music, where she graduated as winner of the gold medal. She studied at the Royal Academy of Music under Tobias Matthay.

Her debut came in 1907 when she played Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with Sir Thomas Beecham conducting. She went on to tour through Britain, the Netherlands and France. Upon her American debut (New York, 24 January 1922) she became a prime favourite in the United States, not only as a soloist, but also as a fine ensemble player. She also has a surprising link to jazz, having given lessons in the ’20s to Ivy Brubeck, mother of Dave Brubeck.

She garnered greater fame during World War II when, with all concert halls closed, she organised a series of lunchtime concerts at the National Gallery, playing in many herself. For this contribution to maintaining the morale of the populace of London, she was created a Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE) in 1941; having previously been created a CBE in 1936.

Hess makes a brief appearance performing at one of her lunchtime concerts in the classic 1942 wartime documentary Listen to Britain (directed by Humphrey Jennings and Stuart McAllister).

Hess was most renowned for her interpretations of the works of Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven and Robert Alexander Schumann, but had a wide repertoire ranging from Domenico Scarlatti to contemporary works. She gave the premiere of Howard Ferguson’s Piano Sonata and his Piano Concerto. She also played a good amount of chamber music, and performed in a piano duo with Irene Scharrer. She promoted public awareness of the piano duo and two-piano works of Franz Peter Schubert.

She made a well-known arrangement for piano of the chorale prelude “Jesus bleibet meine Freude” (known in English as “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”) from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147. Her protégés included Clive Lythgoe and Richard and John Contiguglia.

She influenced the City Music Society to form from the lunchtime concerts she organised.

Of interest:

Charles Yarrow Eccles ?1889 - ?1985 LRCP London 1916, MRCS England, MBBS London 1920, RNVR 1916 - 1919 and 1939 - 1945, MFHom 1943, was a British orthodox physician, Member of the Hampstead Medical Society, who converted to homeopathy, Homeopathic Physician St. Thomas’, Assistant Physician London Homeopathic Hospital, Charles Yarrow Eccles also practiced at Appletrees, Barcombe, Nr. Lewes, Sussex, and he retired to__ 4 Hawthorn Close. Haughton. Stafford, ST18 9HG,