Hubert Harry (1927-2010)

Hubert Harry

Written by Kathleen Uren

Occupations: Pedagogue and Pianist

Hubert Harry was born on 3 August 1927 in Dalton-in-Furness, son of William Arthur Harry (1878-1938), the parish organist and choirmaster in the town, and Marjorie nee Dempster (1885-1956), a locally well-known amateur contralto and pianist. Hubert was very much the youngest child, born when his two older brothers were already aged 16 and 12. The lives of all three boys were steeped in music but Hubert was discovered to be a real child prodigy. At the age of 2 he was heard picking out the notes of the opening of a Chopin Ballade which he had heard his father teaching, and an anecdote of Gilbert Uren (qv) reinforces tales of Hubert’s very early talents. On arriving for his organ lesson with Mr Harry at St. Mary’s Church Gilbert found Hubert, aged 4, seated at the organ playing a bit of Sibelius’ Finlandia, sliding off the stool now and again to add a pedal note !  His first public appearance was aged 5 playing duets with his father in the Co-operative Hall in Dalton, and he went on to give a few concerts in the Furness area, but both publicity and his development were carefully monitored by his father. When Hubert was 8 his tuition was entrusted to the founder of the Northern School of Music in Manchester, Hilda Collens LRAM ARCM (1883-1956). Once a week until he was 16 Hubert travelled by train for these lessons, an arduous journey for small child.  His father died suddenly just before Hubert was 11 and thereafter, as well as his piano studies, Hubert assisted his brother Allan with church organ duties while attending Ulverston Grammar School.  His full-time piano studies continued with Miss Collens at the Northern School, where he came under the influence of many fine musicians, particularly the composer Walter Carroll (1869-1955; ODNB), who was instrumental in obtaining a fine Steinway grand piano for him, and also the pianist Clifford Curzon (1907-1982; ODNB), with whom he developed a mutual respect in terms both of pianism and artistic philosophy, and who remained a lifelong friend. His concert career began at this time with recitals, concertos and BBC broadcasts. 

In 1946 at the age of 19 Hubert travelled to Switzerland to begin studies with the pianist Edwin Fischer (1886-1960) at the Conservatoire in Lucerne, where he heard many great conductors and soloists of the day at the annual International Festival, notably the Romanian pianist Dinu Lipatti ( 1917-1950) whose playing was a revelation to him and with whom Hubert subsequently studied for a short time. His own teaching career began at this time at the Conservatoire where he was also in demand as an accompanist.  A fortuitous introduction the housekeeper of the composer Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) and his wife Natalya (1877-1951) who had a villa on Lake Lucerne led to visits to their house to play the Steinway, and invitations to accompany the Rachmaninov’s granddaughter, the singer Sophie Wolkonsky (1925-1968) with whom Hubert made several private recordings.

On 27 July 1957 in Santiago da Chile Hubert married one of his ex-students Heidi Pfenniger who was of Swiss extraction and had been sent from her home in Chile to study in Lucerne. Their two children, Catherine and Allan were born in 1960 and 1965 respectively and family life became a very important factor in Hubert’s life, contrasting with the loneliness of his own upbringing as a prodigy.

After international prize-winning successes in Geneva, Hubert embarked on a virtuoso solo career, performing in the 1950s and early 60s in Germany, Holland, Chile, Italy and France. One Parisian critic wrote “A rare bond of quality springs up between Hubert Harry and his public”.  He made his debut in London on 18th July 1954 playing  Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto with the Philharmonia Orchestra in the Festival Hall, followed a week later by a solo recital.

However by his early thirties Hubert had begun to turn his back on a peripatetic solo career and to dedicate himself to teaching in Lucerne. The testimonials to his more than 50 years of  teaching written by former students all speak of their love of his teaching, their admiration for his playing and the profound influence he had on their lives. There are comments about his inner calm, his “Buddhist-like” attitude to life, his integrity and humility; also that he was more than a piano teacher, sharing his philosophy, meditation techniques and humanism too. His own playing was not ostentatious, but demonstrated a stunning, easy virtuosity never employed for its own sake but enabling him to produce the most magically varied piano sounds.

Hubert did continue to perform in the country he had chosen as his new home, Switzerland, giving a recital or playing a concerto every year in Lucerne, to great acclaim. He would never agree to record in a studio, but many of these concerts, recorded live, have been preserved on LP and CD, and it was the chance purchase of an old LP on a London market by the broadcaster Rob Cowan in 2003 which led to Hubert’s rediscovery in Britain, where he had remained largely forgotten. More recordings were broadcast leading to much interest from the musically discerning public. His remastered CD recordings are now available online from Royss Music, and You Tube also has some fine examples of his playing.

Hubert died in Lucerne on 12 June 2010. 


  • Cornwall Online Parish Clerks
  • Cornwall censuses
  • Lancashire censuses
  • Heidi Harry, Hubert Harry - Pianist (2013)
  • Family information