Stephen Hough

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Hough in Cleveland in 2010 Houghhough.jpg
Hough in Cleveland in 2010

Stephen Andrew Gill Hough, CBE ( /ˈhʌf/ ; [1] born 22 November 1961) is a British-born classical pianist, composer and writer. He became an Australian citizen in 2005 and thus has dual nationality (his father was born in Australia in 1926). [2]



Hough was born in Heswall (then in Cheshire) on the Wirral Peninsula, and grew up in Thelwall, where he began piano lessons at the age of five. His father, who was born in Australia, worked as a technical representative for British Steel before his death at the age of 54. [3] At an early age, Hough was able to memorise about 100 nursery rhymes and, after much pleading, his parents agreed to buy a second-hand piano, for £5 from a local antique shop, for the home. [4] At the age of 12 he suffered what he has described as a "mini-nervous breakdown", triggered by a mugging incident, which resulted in him taking almost a year off school. [4] He studied at Chetham's School of Music, which he later described as "not a wonderful place while I was there", [4] and at the Royal Northern College of Music. [5] In 1978, he was a finalist in the BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition and won the piano section. In 1982, he won the Terence Judd Award in England. In 1983, he took first prize at the Naumburg International Piano Competition in New York City.

Hough holds a master's degree from the Juilliard School where his studies were assisted by the receipt of the first ever Royal Philharmonic Society Julius Isserlis Scholarship for study abroad. He has studied with Heather Slade-Lipkin, Gordon Green, and Derrick Wyndham. A prominent soloist, he is also a composer and transcriber, and often includes his own works in his recitals. He has written over 30 published pieces. [4] The premiere of his cello concerto, written for Steven Isserlis, took place in March 2007, and in the summer of the same year Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral performed masses he wrote for them. [6] In 2009, his trio for piccolo, contrabassoon and piano ('Was mit den Traenen geschieht') was premiered at the Philharmonie in Berlin by members of the Berlin Philharmonic. His song cycles 'Herbstlieder' (2007) and 'Other Love Songs' (2010) and 'Dappled Things' (2016) were premiered by members of The Prince Consort. His 'Sonata for Piano (broken branches)' was premiered by himself at the Wigmore Hall in 2011. In 2012 the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and Symphonic Choir gave the world premiere of the orchestrated version of his Missa Mirabilis. This work was recorded in 2015 by the Colorado Symphony and Andrew Litton for Hyperion Records. [7] He has written four sonatas for solo piano.

He is an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he is a visiting Professor, a Fellow of the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, where he is the International Chair of piano studies, and an Honorary Fellow of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He was given an honorary doctorate by the University of Liverpool in 2011.

He became the first classical music performer to be awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2001, joining prominent writers and scientists who have made significant contributions in their fields. In 2009 he was named by The Economist and Intelligent Life magazines as one of twenty living polymaths. In 2010 he was named Instrumentalist of the Year at the prestigious Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards. He was a Governor of the Royal Ballet Companies (The Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Royal Ballet School). He is a patron of the charity The Nightingale Project, which takes music and art into hospitals [8] and of Music in Prisons (Irene Taylor Trust). [9] He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to music. [10] [11] He was made an Honorary Bencher of the Middle Temple in 2017. In 2018 he was made an honorary member of the Royal Philharmonic Society. From 2019 he will be a Visiting Fellow at Lady Margaret Hall at the University of Oxford for three years.

He had a solo exhibition of his paintings at the Broadbent Gallery in London in October 2012. [12]

In October 2016 Hough was the guest for BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs . His choices were Cortot's recording of Prélude No. 17 in A-flat by Chopin, Rachmaninoff's recording of "Liebesleid" by Kreisler, "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin, "Kyrie eleison" from the Mass in B minor by Bach, "Lyric Suite for String Quartet" (3rd movement) by Berg, Sonata for cello and piano left hand ("Les adieux") by Stephen Hough, and "Bird Songs at Eventide" by Eric Coates. His favourite was "Proficiscere, anima Christiana (Go Forth)" from The Dream of Gerontius by Elgar. His book choice was a bilingual edition of Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu and his luxury item was a panama hat. He made a special request for a copy of the Tyndale Bible. [4]


He has recorded more than 60 CDs, one of his most notable being a set of the four Rachmaninoff piano concertos and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini , recorded during live performances with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra under the baton of then music director Andrew Litton, which have been compared to the recordings by the composer himself. These recordings won him his seventh Gramophone Award as well as the Classical BRIT Critics Award.

His recording of the five Saint-Saëns concertos won the Gramophone Record of the Year in 2001 and was later voted the Gold Disc, "winner of winners" in a poll commemorating 30 years of the award. [13]

His recording of the Complete Chopin Waltzes, [14] won the Diapason d'Or de l'Année in 2011.

He is also known for championing lesser-known composers generally considered to be outside the standard repertoire such as Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Xaver Scharwenka, York Bowen, and Federico Mompou.

His own compositions can be heard on a CD called Broken Branches, [15] from BIS Records and on the Prince Consort's CD Other Love Songs on Linn Records. His second Piano Sonata (notturno luminoso) appears on his CD In The Night, and his cello sonata on a recital disc with Steven Isserlis. The Colorado Symphony Orchestra recorded his Missa Mirablis with Andrew Litton conducting. His sequence 'Hallowed' for unaccompanied choir was recorded by Harry Christophers and The Sixteen on their CD 'Star of Heaven'.

In July 2017 a CD was released on Pentatone-Oxingale Records for the inaugural opening of the Tippet Rise Festival, featuring a performance by Hough, Christopher O’Riley, and Matt Haimovitz, among others.

Teaching and writing

He is a visiting professor of piano at the Royal Academy of Music in London and the International Chair of Piano Studies at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. He is also on the faculty of the Juilliard School in New York.

Hough joined the Roman Catholic Church when he was 19. Twice in his life he considered becoming a priest, in particular joining the Franciscan Order. [4]

He has written about his homosexuality and its relationship with both his music-making and his religion. [16] [17] For some 15 years, following his Catholic vocation, he lived a life of celibacy. [4] In 2007 he published The Bible as Prayer: a handbook for lectio divina . [18] 'Nosing Around', his little book on perfume, was published in 2014 [19] In 2018 Sylph Editions published his first novel 'The Final Retreat' which explores the inner world of a priest dealing with sex addiction and religious despair. His book ‘Rough Ideas: reflections on music and more’ is a collection of essays and short musings and was published by Faber & Faber in 2019, and by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2020.

In 2008 he won the Sixth International Poetry Competition. [20] Hough wrote a blog for five years (2010 to 2015) at the website of The Daily Telegraph . [21]

Australian connections

Hough's father was born an only child at Mayfield, a suburb of Newcastle, New South Wales, in 1926. Before his first birthday his mother took him to England, settling in the North, and leaving her husband behind in Australia. The boy was always told his father had died, but in fact the father lived for a further 30 years, working in the steel industry at Newcastle. Hough's grandfather wrote Hough's father letters, none of which he ever received.

Stephen Hough says his assumption of Australian citizenship was in part a tribute to his father, who wanted to return to the land of his birth but was never able to before his death in 1980 at the age of 54. [22]

Selected discography

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  1. Hough, Stephen (24 May 2009). "Hough? Where's that? – Telegraph Blogs". Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  2. "Writings | Why I Became an Australian Citizen". Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  3. "Classic FM Meets Stephen Hough". Classic FM . Retrieved 14 October 2016.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "Stephen Hough, Desert Island Discs – BBC Radio 4". 9 October 2016. Retrieved 15 October 2016.
  5. "In Conversation with Stephen Hough". Royal Northern College of Music. Retrieved 14 October 2016.
  6. "With apologies to Bartok". The Telegraph . 21 January 2007. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  7. "Missa Mirabilis (Hough) – from CDA68096 – Hyperion Records – MP3 and Lossless downloads". Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  8. "Stephen Hough becomes Nightingale Project Patron". The Nightingale Project. 12 July 2013. Retrieved 15 October 2016.
  9. "The Irene Taylor Trust | Creating Music. Transforming Futures". Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  10. "No. 60728". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2013. p. 8.
  11. "New Year Honours 2014: list in full". Telegraph. 30 December 2013. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  12. "Stephen Hough – Broadbent GalleryBroadbent Gallery". Archived from the original on 18 June 2015. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  13. Nicholas Wroe. "Nicholas Wroe talks Tchaikovsky to pianist Stephen Hough | Music". Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  14. "Stephen Hough, Frederic Chopin, None: Chopin: The Complete Waltzes: Music". Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  15. "Hough: Broken Branches (Compostitions By Stephen Hough) (Bis: BISCD1952): Music". Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  16. Stephen Hough. "An equal music" (PDF). Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  17. "The Way We Are Now: Gay and Lesbian Lives in the 21st Century: Ben Summerskill: 9780826487858: Books". Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  18. "hough prayer: Books". Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  19. "Peter Cameron, Shrinking Violet Press Titles Available". Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  20. "Sixth Poetry Competition Winners". 1 November 2007. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  21. "Index of Telegraph bloggers". Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  22. Kathy Evans, "Ties that bind", The Age, 13 September 2014, Spectrum, p. 19
  23. "Stephen Hough's French Album". Hyperion Records. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  24. "In the Night". Hyperion Records. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  25. "Grieg: Lyric Pieces". Hyperion Records. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  26. "Scriabin & Janáček: Sonatas & Poems". Hyperion Records. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  27. "Dvořák & Schumann: Piano Concertos". Hyperion Records. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  28. "Stephen Hough's Dream Album". Hyperion Records. Retrieved 28 October 2019.
  29. "The Final Piano Pieces". Hyperion Records. Retrieved 28 October 2019.