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How the concerts started

Royal visits

In the anxious months that followed the outbreak of war, the National Gallery concerts played an important role in boosting morale. They were a sign that ordinary pursuits were still possible despite the extraordinary circumstances, and an assertion that art and beauty would endure.

This symbolic role was recognised by the Royal Family who attended performances regularly throughout the war. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth (the late Queen Mother) was the first to visit on 24 October 1939 and sat among the public to hear a programme of sonatas for cello and piano.

Gallery in wartime

Queen Elizabeth, the late Queen Mother, attends a Myra Hess concert
© The British Film Institute - 1 min 34 secs

Away on a concert tour, Myra Hess missed the event but was invited to sit next to the Queen on her next visit three weeks later in November. A keen pianist herself, Queen Elizabeth expressed her enthusiasm for the project, a message she underlined with several more visits in subsequent years, including an appearance at the 1,000th concert on 23 July 1943.

Two years later, on the occasion of a dinner given in honour of Hess by the Musicians’ Benevolent Fund, the Queen sent a message describing her visits to the National Gallery concerts as some of the happiest hours she had known during the war.

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