Showing posts with label Dame Myra Hess. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dame Myra Hess. Show all posts

Friday, May 30, 2014

Happy birthday, Jelly

The great violinist Jelly d'Arányi, muse to Ravel, Vaughan Williams, Bartók and many other composers (maybe even Elgar), was born on this day in 1893. The woman for whom Tzigane was created is today remembered far too little, yet the more one digs into her life, the more fascinating it becomes. She was the great-niece of Joseph Joachim - her elder sister Adila Fachiri (her married name), herself a fabulous violinist, was among his last pupils and was at his bedside when he died.

Jelly's life housed countless mysteries. One of the most intriguing is that she enjoyed a duo with Myra Hess for some 20 years, yet merits scarcely a mention in passing in Hess's largest biography to date (I've been trying to find out what went wrong between them, but so far to little avail). She never married, but the great love of her life is said to have been the Australian composer and Olympic rowing champion Frederick Septimus Kelly, who was killed at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. And she gave the UK premiere of the Schumann Violin Concerto in February 1938: as for the famed "spirit messages" from Schumann asking her to track down and perform the piece, which was suppressed by Clara, Joachim and Brahms after the composer's death, there's no doubt that she certainly believed that her messages were genuine - and that they proved effective in restoring the concerto to life.

Please listen to her, Felix Salmond and Myra Hess playing the slow movement of Schubert's Piano Trio in B flat major.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday Historical: purple Brahms patch with d'Aranyi, Hess and Cassado

This extraordinary recording from 1928 has finally popped up on Youtube. Here's the second movement of Brahms's Piano Trio in C, Op.87 played by Jelly d'Aranyi (violin), Myra Hess (piano) and Gaspar Cassado (cello).



As I understand it, these sessions - this Brahms and also the Schubert B flat Trio (with Felix Salmond on the cello) - were Hess's first recording. She and Jelly d'Aranyi worked together for some 20 years, giving countless recitals at the likes of the Wigmore and Queen's Hall, but these trios seem to be the only surviving example of their collaboration.

Sometime in the war years, it appears that they must have had a massive fallout. Serious enough that in Hess's biography by Marian McKenna, d'Aranyi - her duo partner for two decades - is afforded just one mention, in passing. I've met a number of people who knew one or the other, sometimes both, yet nobody seems sure exactly what went wrong.

The music world is full of these situations, of course, and in the end it's immaterial since the result, unfortunately, was the same whatever the cause. But when you hear the fine blend of their sounds, d'Aranyi's mellifluous charm sparking against Hess's wit and intelligence, the flow of detail and infinite shading of ideas that takes place in their music-making (it's even more obvious in the Schubert, incidentally), it seems little short of tragic that their every move was not captured by microphone - and that their partnership has somehow been wiped from history.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Sexism with strings attached. Plus a tribute to Dame Myra

Sexism in classical music. It's everywhere in the industry and it's time someone said so and started to come up with something to begin solving the issue. So I have. Here is the piece, which is in today's Independent. Please pop over and read it.

I can't help wondering how musicians such as Clara Haskil, Maria Yudina or Dame Myra Hess would have fared in today's climate if a slinky picture was a pre-requisite. We'd be missing out on some of the greatest pianism of the 20th century. Hopefully an enlightened company like Hyperion or harmonia mundi might have taken them up - but doesn't it make you wonder who's being overlooked now?

Yesterday was the annual Myra Hess Day at the National Gallery. I couldn't go because I had a gig to do at the Linbury Studio, but it's something I'm always sad to miss. Here is some amazing footage of her playing Mozart's G major concerto K453 in her National Gallery concerts with the orchestra of the RAF.

Listen to the life she gives to every note and the wit and intelligence in her phrasing. Then ask whether she would not be struggling in the 21st century as a woman in the public eye, since her preferred concert dress probably wasn't a size 8 (British version thereof). Then ask yourself whether what we currently face in the music world is an acceptable situation. And then ask yourself what we're going to do about it.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Piano questions, please!

Last night you may have heard Erica Worth, editor of Pianist Magazine, joining Sara Mohr-Pietsch and Richard Sisson live on BBC R3 for Piano Keys. It's a talk show in the interval of the Piano Season's Monday evening recital, answering listeners' phone-in questions about all matters pianistic. Last night's questions involved the relative merits of digital instruments versus acoustic ones, what goes on in pianists' minds while they play, some rarities of French repertoire and a wonderful story about Myra Hess in the Blitz.

Next Monday it is JD's turn to be the guest in the hotseat.

If there's a question with which you'd like to call in, please email the team at: pianoseason@bbc.co.uk and if you missed yesterday's, you can catch up on the iPlayer here.

Other BBC Piano Season treats are plentiful - the most interesting stuff didn't make the headline material! Composer of the Week is Chopin. Sunday Morning with Rob Cowan featured some of Ignace Friedman's greatest recordings. And the Radio 3 Piano Masterclass with David Owen Norris is available to watch online here. Onwards...

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Sunday Bach treat from Myra Hess

Dame Myra Hess plays Bach's Toccata in G, BWV916. Recorded in 1950, this performance is full of personality and poise, good sense and rhetorical flair.

Someone needs to write a new biography of Hess - a great woman, a towering artist and a real emblem of her times. Existing books are out of print. I have run to earth a copy of Marion McKenna's, but it tells us everything except what we really want to know.

But perhaps Hess's playing tells us the most, and always will.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Around St Martin's Lane...

Before I hand you over to today's Independent for my piece about Fiona Shaw and The Marriage of Figaro, I have to tell you a little about last night.

I went along to Myra Hess Day at the National Gallery, where the Menuhin School Orchestra, Piers Lane, Andrew Tortise, The Fibonacci Sequence and Tasmin Little gave a strong, varied programme in tribute to Dame Myra Hess, in front of the Gainsboroughs and Goyas. A huge plaudit to Piers and Tasmin for playing Howard Ferguson's superb, gutsy and inspired Violin Sonata, which was written just after the war - before that, apparently, he'd been too busy organising the gallery concerts to compose anything much, and this was a sure statement of intent.

But first, Tasmin played the Bach Double with a student from the Menuhin School as her partner soloist. Louisa-Rose Staples is 11, but looks 9, and is blessed with real composure and aplomb. From the first note it was clear that she was utterly secure with the task in hand - you knew at once that she couldn't put a finger wrong. She played like a complete pro: musical, responsive, accurate... And of course, this is where Tasmin herself started. Louisa-Rose, like Tasmin, became a pupil at the Menuhin School when she was 8. An auspicious evening, perhaps.

Round the corner from the National Gallery sits ENO, and tonight its new Figaro opens, directed by the one and only Fiona Shaw. I interviewed her, Paul Daniel, Iain Paterson (Figaro) and the youthful American soprano Devon Guthrie (Susanna) about what they're doing with it. Read it all here: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/features/figaro-a-marriage-made-in-heaven-2365484.html

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

It's Myra Hess Day

It's wonderful when they name a day after your musical heroine and make it an annual event. Today at the National Gallery it is Myra Hess Day, in tribute to the great pianist who, with the composer Howard Ferguson, started the now legendary series of lunchtime concerts there during the Blitz.

Three concerts are held during the course of the day in the same space that the musicians used in the 1940s - though now the paintings, which were removed somewhere safe at the time, are there too. The concerts are devised by Piers Lane, who's a sort of grand-pupil of Dame Myra via one of his mentors, the late Yonty Solomon. More about the history of the wartime series and its guiding lights on the National Gallery site, here.

Today kicks off at lunchtime with the Ionian Singers conducted by Timothy Salter in a programme of English music for choir. Afternoon brings a performance of Admission: One Shilling, by Nigel Hess (great-nephew) in which actress Patricia Routledge and pianist Piers Lane tell the story of the gallery concerts in Dame Myra's words and lots of music; and finally this evening Piers is joined by Tasmin Little (violin), Andrew Tortise (tenor), Fibonacci Sequence and the Menuhin School Orchestra to perform some Ferguson alongside Bach, Schubert and Mahler, plus a world premiere from composer Benjamin Wallfisch.

Afternoon and evening are sold out, but I think you can still get in at lunchtime.

Listen to Dame Myra playing her famous transcription of Bach's 'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring', plus a spot of Scarlatti...

Friday, September 02, 2011

Friday Historical: Dame Myra Hess plays Beethoven's 'Appassionata'

Life goes on, it's Friday afternoon and it's high time we had a Friday Historical from one of my pianistic goddesses, Dame Myra Hess. Here is some all-too-rare film of her: this was recorded at one of her National Gallery Lunchtime Concerts during World War II. It will soon be time for the National Gallery's annual Myra Hess Day and I'll post more details nearer the time.