ABOUT DAME MYRA HESS
On September 3, 1939, England declared war on Germany. All theaters, cinemas, concert halls, and museums in London were closed for the duration.
Within weeks, feeling that the British people were being deprived of music, Myra Hess, one of the world’s great pianists, convinced the government to allow her to start a daily recital series at the National Gallery in central London. With all the paintings and sculptures removed from the galleries, Myra Hess opened the first concert on October 10, 1939.
Throughout the Blitz and the bombings of London, the concerts continued every day, Monday through Friday, until August 10, 1946. During daylight bombings, the public and musicians had to retire to the basement of the National Gallery.
It would be impossible to measure the importance of these concerts to the public as well as to the performers. Over the five and a half years the concerts lasted, 1,698 performances were given and 700 different musicians (exclusive of ensembles, choirs, and orchestras) participated, with some 824,000 audience members attending.
During these years, Myra Hess abandoned her international career, because she felt it was more important to the war effort to have live concerts to help boost the morale of the people. After the war, she resumed her concertising throughout the world.
Myra Hess was made a Dame of the British Empire after the war for her outstanding service to the nation. She died on November 25, 1965, leaving her estate to benefit young artists, stipulating that performances take place anywhere in the United Kingdom other than in major cities.