Myra Hess collection
Archive reference number
The collection consists of a concert programme, a signed copy by Myra Hess of the history of the concerts 'National Gallery Concerts 10th October 1939-10th October 1944', and five photographs of Dame Myra Hess.
The pianist Myra Hess organised a series of concerts at the National Gallery during the Second World War. 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 and at a time when many entertainment venues were closed for the duration of the war. The Committee 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 without exception 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 1.00, were repeated to an equally appreciative but smaller audience at 4.30 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 the Queen attended. Many of the Concerts were broadcast over the radio at home and abroad.
The papers and photographs were originally owned by Elsie Murray, a friend of Dame Myra Hess. Elsie Murray was the piano teacher of Ann Hartree who gave the papers to the Gallery.
NG16/47/2 Registry files: Concerts NG24 Press cuttings NG30 Photographs NG56 National Gallery WWII Concert Programmes
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