Dame Myra Hess made her debut in 1907 at the age 17 playing Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with Sir Thomas Beecham. She made her American debut in 1922 in New York. Although she had several teachers, she considered Tobias Matthay to be her principal influence.
Hess’s greatest fame came during World War II when she organized a series of concerts at the National Gallery in London. There were eventually 1,700 concerts, with Hess performing in 150 of them. The programs were extremely helpful in maintaining the morale of Londoners in a period when they were bombarded daily by the Germans. For her contributions during the war, King George VI named her a Dame Commander of the British Empire.
Although she was a wonderful pianist and had a wide-ranging repertoire, she is best known today for her beautiful transcription of Bach’s “Jesus bleibet meine Freude”, known in English as “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”
Here is Hess playing her well-known transcription.
The Chicago Cultural Center started a series named in honor of Hess in 1977. The weekly concerts are broadcast live, or you can listen streamed at WFMT.com