British pianist (1890 - 1965)

Dame Myra Hess is a monument, to music, to pianism, and to women.  She was one of the very few women whose career was equal to those of the leading male pianists of her era.  She was a pupil of Tobias Matthay, the great English piano pedagogue.  At the age of 17, she made her debut under the direction of Thomas Beecham in Beethoven's Fourth Concerto and her career was launched.

She may be most widely known not for her playing but for her transcription of Bach's "Jesu, joy of man's desiring" from Cantata 147.  She was fond of telling the story of a British soldier who whistled it on a train during the war. 

"Are you interested in Bach?", by a journalist asked the soldier.
"No", answered the soldier.
"But you are whistling a composition by Bach," said the journalist.
"That's not Bach," replied the soldier indignantly. "That's Myra Hess."

I lead with her own performance of this wonderful work as well as several short video clips recorded in 1954 from the BBC archives, not for the musical value, as they are very brief, but for a sense of her presence on stage.

Myra Hess is what I would call a profoundly serious pianist.  Her playing does not dance, it does not sparkle or glitter, there is little humor in her playing.  But it does have a depth and intensity of passion, and what she does do in taking the more somber view is nothing short of miraculous.

Her repertoire sits squarely in the essence of the Classic-Romantic eras with Bach as her point de repère and Ravel as her destination, the music to which we constantly return for sustenance. Her Beethoven and Brahms are perfect.  The recording of the Op 110 sonata of the former satisfies me in every way;  the Op 117~1 of the latter cannot, in my imagine, be improved upon.  And the way Dame Myra Hess plays the Chopin Op 49 fantasy makes me want to go back and offer that composer the rest of my life.  It is unfortunate that the recorded sound is so poor in her otherwise miraculous recording of his C minor Nocturne.

There is a fabulous performances of the Schubert B major sonata, the Schumann Symphonic Etudes, and her Mozart is just so.   Myra Hess must claim her position as another on anyone's list of the top ten pianists in recorded history.

This page covers Dame Myra's recordings from Purcell to Beethoven as well as a few examples of chamber music, by Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms. Go to Hess Plays the Romantics for her performances of piano music by Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Brahms, and others.  And for her performances with orchestra, including three different recordings of the Schumann concerto, go to the Dame Myra Hess plays Concerti page.

Bach  Chorale "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" from BWV 147
Scarlatti  Keyboard Sonata in
G Major, K 14 / L 387

recorded in 1940

1954 BBC video of Myra Hess performing excerpts

Bach  Chorale "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" from BWV 147

Bach  Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major BWV 564

Beethoven  Piano Sonata 31 in A major, Op 110
ii Allegro molto

Purcell  Saraband, Minuet and Air

Saraband from Harpsichord Suite 2 in G minor
Minuet from Suite 1 Harpsichord Suite 1 in G major
Air from from the incidental music for Abdelazor

recorded in 1928

Bach  Prelude and Fugue in C major, BWV 848
from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1

recorded in 1929

Bach  Prelude in G major, BWV 902

Bach  Toccata in G major, BWV 916
(Presto) - Adagio - Allegro

recorded in 1959

Bach  English Suite 2 in A minor, BWV 807

recorded in 1956

i Prélude - ii Allemande - iii Courante

iv Sarabande - v Bourrée I - vi Bourrée II - vii Gigue

Bach  Partita 4 in D major, BWV 828

05:36 ➢ Allemande
13:29 ➢ Courante
16:55 ➢ Air
19:21 ➢ Sarabande
22:58 ➢ Menuet
24:24 ➢ Gigue

recorded in 1949

Scarlatti  Keyboard in C minor, K 11

Haydn - Piano Sonata 62 in E major, Hob XVI:52

recorded in 1962

i Allegro (moderato)

ii Adagio
iii Finale - Presto

Mozart  Rondo 1 in D major, K 485

recorded in 1958

Mozart  Adagio in B minor, K 540

recorded in 1958

Beethoven  "Für Elise"

Beethoven  Bagatelle in B major, Op 119~1

Beethoven  Bagatelle in E major, Op 126~3

recorded in 1957

Beethoven  Piano Sonata 17 in D minor, Op 31~2

i Largo. Allegro
08:05ii Adagio
15:27iii Allegretto

recorded in 1949

Beethoven  Piano Sonata 23 in F minor, Op 57 "Appassionata"
i Allegro assai

live video from 1945

Beethoven  Piano Sonata 30 in E major, Op 109

i Vivace ma non troppo. Adagio espressivo
ii Prestissimo

recorded in 1953

iii Gesangvoll, mit innigster Empfindung (Theme and Variations)

Beethoven  Piano Sonata 31 in A major, Op 110

i Moderato cantabile molto espressivo
ii Allegro molto
iii Adagio ma non troppo
iv Fuga - Allegro ma non troppo

recorded in 1953

Beethoven  Sonata for Violin and Piano 10  in G major, Op 96
with Isaac Stern, violin

i Allegro moderato
ii Adagio espressivo
iii Scherzo - Allegro
iv Poco allegretto

recorded in 1960

Beethoven  Sonata for Cello and Piano in A major, Op 69
with Emanuel Feuermann, cello

recorded in 1937

i Allegro ma non tanto

ii Scherzo - Allegro molto
iii Adagio cantabile. Allegro vivace

Schubert  Violin Sonatina 1 in D Major, Op 137~1 (D 384)
with Isaac Stern, violin

i Allegro molto
ii Andante
iii Allegro vivace

recorded live in 1960

Schubert  Piano Trio 1 in B major, Op 99 (D 898)
ii Andante un poco mosso
with Jelly d'Arány, violin and Felix Salmond, cello

recorded in 1927

Brahms  Piano Trio 1 in B major, Op 8
with Isaac Stern, violin and Pablo Casals, cello

i Allegro con brio
ii Scherzo
iii Adagio
iv Allegro

recorded in 1952

Brahms  Piano Trio 2 in C major, Op 87
with Jelly d'Arány, violin and Gaspar Cassado, cello

recorded in 1935

ii Andante con moto

iii Finale - Allegro giocoso (excerpt)

For those of you who enjoy murder mysteries, here is my first with a strong musical polemic as background

Murder in the House of the Muse

which is also available as an audiobook.

And this is the more recently published second mystery in the series:

Murder Follows the Muse

Follow these links to our main subject categories

Or return to the Great Women Pianists Play page

[?]Subscribe To This Site
  • follow us in feedly
  • Add to My Yahoo!