National Gallery WWII Concert Programmes
Archive reference number
Consists of an incomplete collection of programmes for concerts given at the National Gallery during WW2. The dates for the programmes range from 1940 until 1946. Another programme is of the Gallery's 1,000th wartime concert which was attended by Her Majesty the Queen on 23 July 1943.
Over the years there have been a number of concerts held at the National Gallery. The concerts held during the wartime years are probably the more well known of these. Concerned about the effect of a cultural blackout on the lives of Londoners during the Second World War, Myra Hess with the assistance of Kenneth Clark, organised a series of concerts at the Gallery.
The concerts have always been closely associated with Myra Hess. She was the driving force behind the Concert Committee that organised them and she herself played a number of times. Their aim was to bring classical music to people at a price that most could afford. They also wanted to provide employment for musicians whose livelihood had been seriously endangered by the outbreak of war and to give young musicians the opportunity to perform alongside well-known artists. Any profits made were given to the Musicians Benevolent Fund.
The first concert was on 10th October 1939. Despite air raids and inadequate accommodation resulting from bomb damage to the Gallery there were concerts every weekday (with the exception of Good Friday) until the last concert on 10th April 1946. During this period there were 1,698 concerts in all, which were attended by 824,152 people.
Over the years many artists and conductors performed at the concerts, among them Sir Henry Wood, John Barbirolli, Michael Tippett, Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears and Kathleen Ferrier. The performances, which lasted approximately an hour, encompassed a broad range of music from the sixteenth century to more contemporary works.
For the first two and a half months the concerts, which were held at 13.00, were repeated to an equally appreciative but smaller audience at 16.30 the same afternoon. However, because of the smaller numbers of people attending, these late afternoon concerts were soon abandoned. There were also concerts put on to celebrate special events. One such event was the 1,000th Concert, on 23rd July 1943 which Her Majesty the Queen attended. Many of the Concerts were broadcast over the radio at home and abroad: although the BBC recorded one for their archive this unfortunately seems to have been lost. Another concert was filmed for the Humphrey Jennings' film, "Listen to Britain".
The provenance of all the programmes is unclear but there are several programmes that have been donated to the Gallery by individuals [see individual entries for details]. The two copies of 'Music Performed at the National Gallery Concerts' were donated to the Gallery by the Musicians Benevolent Fund.
NG26: Trustees Correspondence 1932-1950. Includes requests for concerts. NG1/11-12 Minutes of the Board Meetings 1933-1950. Includes arrangements for concerts in the Gallery. NG16 Director's Office: Subject Files 1934-1962. This series has approximately 30 files relating to the National Gallery during the Second World War, covering many different aspects of the Gallery's activities including concerts. NG30/1-29 National Gallery Photographs 1939-1945. This series has 29 files containing photographs of all Gallery activities and events from 1939-1945 including concerts. NGA20: Myra Hess: A concert programme, a signed copy by Myra Hess of the history of the concerts and photographs of Dame Myra Hess. NGA37: concert programmes donated by Cynthia Walton. A full set of concert programmes as well as additional archive material relating to the concerts are held by the British Library
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