British female pianists and teachers: Helen Hopekirk

My blog post today focuses on British female pianists and teachers of the past. Helen Hopekirk was a concert pianist, teacher, and composer. She was born near Edinburgh, Scotland, and was the daughter of music shop owners Adam and Helen Hopekirk. Helen began to study the piano aged 9 and just two years later she played at a People’s Concert and exhibited unusual musical talent. She studied music with George Lichtenstein and Scottish composer Alexander Mackenzie, making her debut as a soloist in 1874 with the Edinburgh Amateur Orchestral Society.

After other successful performances and the death of her father, she relocated to study composition with Carl Reinecke in Leipzig.  Further successful debuts included performances in Leipzig and London, where she played Saint-Saens’ Second Piano Concerto in G minor at the Crystal Palace Saturday Concerts, after which she began regular concert tours of Europe. Hopekirk was influenced by Xaver Scharwenka and Anton Rubenstein during the early part of her professional career.

In 1882 Hopekirk married Edinburgh merchant and music critic William A. Wilson (d. 1926), who began serving as her manager. She made her American debut in 1883 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and commenced concert tours in the United States. She planned to continue her studies with Franz Liszt, but after his death studied instead with Theodor Leschetizky in Vienna and Czech composer Karel Navrátil in Prague. She and her husband lived in Vienna until 1892, and then moved to Paris, where she began to teach piano.

Her husband was injured in a traffic accident, and in 1897 she accepted the invitation of Director George Chadwick to take a teaching position at the New England Conservatory. In 1901 she left the Conservatory finding institutionalized teaching did not suit her and became a private teacher, also continuing her performance career. Helen Hopekirk became an early champion of Edward MacDowell’s piano music, frequently playing his works.

She also began publishing her own compositions for voice and piano in the early 1900’s; the edition of Seventy Scottish Songs (1905) was indicative of her interest in folk music. Hopekirk and her husband became American citizens in 1918. Her last performance was at Steinert Hall, Boston, in 1939. She died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, of a cerebral thrombosis and was buried in the Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Main Source: Wikipedia


Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.

For more information, please visit the publications page, here.

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