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National Gallery commemorates Second World War with special day of events and new online resource

Issued July 2010 

Supported by The Ernest Hecht Charitable Foundation

"I think that the National Gallery concerts will be among the things that people will remember about this war…they were the first sign we were recovering from some sort of numbness..."
Kenneth Clark, Director of the National Gallery, 1933–45

In the year which commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, the National Gallery is launching an online resource dedicated to the history of the National Gallery during the Second World War.

A series of special concerts will also be held at the Gallery on 5 October 2010, celebrating Dame Myra Hess, the pianist who conceived the idea to turn the National Gallery into a venue for musical concerts during the Blitz.  

The National Gallery is delighted to have secured a rare appearance from Ida Haendel, a world-renowned violinist who performed in the original wartime concerts when she was just a teenager. In a lunchtime concert she will perform a varied programme of music by Romanian, German and French composers, with her colleague Misha Dacic at the piano.

The online resource focuses largely on Myra Hess and the wartime concerts, which boosted the morale of ordinary Londoners during a time of ‘cultural blackout’. Images show the queues which formed outside the Gallery in Trafalgar Square for the concerts, which were attended by a total of 750,000 people. The website takes the visitor behind the scenes of how these events were brought to fruition, and also into the canteen that functioned in the backrooms of the Gallery during the war.

In addition, the site tells the story of what happened to the nation’s collection of paintings in 1939. As widespread bombing of London was predicted, director Kenneth Clark oversaw the evacuation of some of the world’s finest masterpieces to places of safety deep in the cavernous chambers of a disused Welsh slate mine. He also instigated ‘Picture of the Month’ – when just one work was returned to the walls of the National Gallery each month, giving Londoners a chance to see something from the permanent collection during wartime.

The special celebratory events in October include Piers Lane in conversation with Ida Haendel and Stephen Kovacevich, a pupil of Myra Hess.

An evening concert showcases three Germanic composers from the Romantic era and Britain’s foremost 20th-century composer, Benjamin Britten. It includes both German Lieder and English song. The repertoire for the evening concert was inspired by a touching story from the Second World War concerts:

"In May 1940, as news reached London of the German advance on the Netherlands, the celebrated German Lieder singer, Elena Gerhardt, telephoned Myra Hess to cancel her appearance at the Gallery. 'Myra', she told her friend, 'I cannot sing today. Nobody will want to hear the German language'. Hess reassured Gerhardt this wasn’t the case and offered to accompany her. As the two women walked on stage, Gerhardt was still concerned, when the audience, sensing her nerves, responded with an ovation warm enough to dispel any doubts that music was what mattered’."
John Amis, classical music critic and friend of Dame Myra Hess

For Myra Hess, the concerts offered a wonderful opportunity "to give spiritual solace to those who are giving all to combat the evil". Kenneth Clark described the people who attended the concerts thus: "All sorts. Young and old, smart and shabby, Tommies in uniform with their tin hats strapped on, old ladies with ear trumpets, musical students, civil servants, office boys, busy public men; all sorts had come."

It is hoped the new online resource and the modern-day concerts will give people an insight into the National Gallery during this monumental and fascinating period in history.

For press information and images, please contact Nicola Jeffs or 020 7747 2532

Notes to editors

For more information about the National Gallery in wartime please visit

Full programme for Dame Myra Hess Day, 5 October 2010

Lunchtime concert, 1pm, The Barry Rooms (Room 36)
Ida Haendel, violin
Misha Dacic, piano
Georges Enesco Violin Sonata No. 3 in A minor ‘dans le caractère populaire roumain’, Op. 25
Robert Schumann Violin Sonata No. 2 in D minor, Op. 121
Camille Saint-Saens Rondo, Capriccioso, Sarasate, Ziguneweisen or Carmen Fantasy
Free ‘In Conversation’ event, 3pm, Sainsbury Wing Theatre
Piers Lane in conversation with Ida Haendel and Stephen Kovacevich
Evening concert, 7.30pm, The Barry Rooms
Piers Lane, piano
Markus Schäfer, tenor
Radovan Vlatkovic, French horn
Jack Liebeck, violin
Robert Schumann Adagio and Allegro for horn and piano in A flat major, Op. 70
(Piers Lane, piano; Radovan Vlatkovic, horn)
Franz Schubert  A selection of Lieder
(Piers Lane, piano; Markus Schäfer, tenor; Radovan Vlatkovic, horn) 
Benjamin Britten Canticle III, Op. 55, ‘Still Falls the Rain’
(Piers Lane, piano; Markus Schäfer, tenor; Radovan Vlatkovic, horn)
Johannes Brahms Horn Trio, Op. 40
(Piers Lane, piano; Radovan Vlatkovic, horn; Jack Liebeck, violin)

The evening concert will be followed by a wine reception in Central Hall for all guests.

For more information on buying tickets visit

The Ernest Hecht Chartiable Foundation

The Myra Hess Concerts online resource and the Dame Myra Hess Day are supported by The Ernest Hecht Charitable Foundation. The foundation was set up some years ago by Ernest Hecht, one of England’s major independent book publishers, with the aim of helping the disadvantaged and promoting the advancement of the arts and education.

For public information on National Gallery exhibitions and events please contact
020 7747 2885 /, or visit

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