NOVEMBER 25: Myra Hess (1890-1965)


The English composer and pianist
Myra Hess passed away on this day in 1965. Although her lesbianism has often
been shrouded by the history books, she is most well-known today for her “blackout
concerts” performed during the London Blitz.


Myra Hess photographed playing Mendelssohn (x).

Myra Hess was born on February 25,
1890 in Kilburn, London. She was the youngest of 4 children born into the Hess’s Jewish middle-class home and she began taking music lessons at the young age of
5. Two years later, she would begin her formal education at The Guildhall
School of Music. She eventually went on to study at The Royal Academy of Music,
debuting in 1907 with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4. Throughout the 1920s
and 1930s, she toured Europe and found special success
in America as an ensemble player for many major jazz bands of the day.

Her legacy was cemented just weeks
after the beginning of the Second World War. Due to the London Blitz, all the
concert halls in the city were put on blackout so as to avoid being targets for
German bombers. Myra found a way around this by putting on what she called
lunchtime concerts – performances that were put on in the concert halls during
the day rather than at the traditional time of the evening. Over the course of six
years, Myra put on over 2,000 lunchtime concerts for the people of London.

Myra remained unmarried throughout
her life and maintained close relationships with other openly lesbian composers
and musicians of her day such as Maude Valerie White and Irene Scharrer. With that said, little
is known about the truth of Myra’s sexuality. Most historians accept the fact
of her “intense relationships with women,” and yet are reluctant to label her
as a lesbian historical figure. However, whichever label Myra would have chosen
for herself if she were living in contemporary times, it is undeniable that by
the time of her death on November 25, 1965, she had lived a life as a “woman
identified woman.”