Líza Fuchsová

Two female musicians, with dark hair in braided hairstyles. One is sitting in front of a piano and the other is standing beside her; the one standing is holding a violin and both are looking at sheet music, wearing short sleeved dresses

Author: Sarah K. Whitfield

Líza Fuchsová was an important figure in British musical life. She was a concert pianist and a long-term duet partner for Paul Hamburger, a fellow musical migrant. She was born on 31 March 1913, in Brno, and died on 27 February 1977, in London. She had studied at Prague Conservatoire (Pražská konzervatoř) and performed with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. She had an extensive career after arriving in the UK in the late 1930s from Nazi occupied Europe.

She played extensively across BBC Radio channels, performing hundreds of times over a thirty-year period. Despite this, she is little remembered. She has only a minimal entry in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music and only appears in Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians in Hamburger’s entry. The important work of music historian Jutta Raab Hansen has provided a starting point for researchers to discover more about Fuchsová’s work, not least because of her work as a kind of cultural ambassador—she spent so much time introducing and performing repertoire written by Czech composers.

Raab Hansen explains that Fuchsová was an important part of a group of other Czech migrant musicians who were active in Britain during World War II:

"She mainly performed Czech music and was one of the rare interpreters of Smetana. During the war she gave recitals which included Czech music in different places in Great Britain, managed by the concert agency Ibbs & Tillett. Later she performed with Austrian refugee Paul Hamburger as a piano duo and as a member of the Dumka Trio. The career of this very successful pianist lasted until her death."

As Raab Hansen suggests, her performances were extensive. Fuchsová gave several important radio premieres including the first major broadcast of Works by Elisabeth Lutyens in November 1947. She also played Bohuslav Martinů’s Sinfonietta Giocosa in June 1950 on the BBC Home Service. On the BBC Third Programme (later BBC Radio Three), Fuchsová played in broadcast premieres of work by Swedish composer Lars-Erik Larsson (1908-1986) and British composer Humphrey Searle (1915-1982).

In 1950, Fuchsová married surgeon Ernst Kirz and they lived together in North London. From 1955-1975 she was Paul Hamburger’s duet partner. Their long partnership was prolific. They made broadcasts on BBC radio and played numerous concerts across the UK. She was also part of the Dumka Trio from c.1962 until her death—the group with violinist Suzanne Rosza and cellist Vivian Joseph. Together, they recorded most of Dvořák’s piano trios.

Through the Music, Migration and Mobility project, digital humanities-led research has expanded what we know about where and what Fuchsová played and what is possible to know about this migrant musician. This research has revealed an interview with Fuchsová and many other records of her remarkable performance career.

Arrival in the UK

One of the ways searching digitised archives can help reveal more information about musicians is by revealing fragments of interviews or news items that might capture a migrant’s own voice. That is the case for Fuchsová. In October 1939, ‘Mr Manchester’, an anonymous columnist for Manchester Evening News, reported on Fuchsová’s presence in the city and her experiences, describing her as a ‘Czecho-Slovakian concert pianist’.

In the article, Fuchsová’s words are printed heavily accented: "I’m so charmed and ze English people are kind. I wish I could play more often. But first I must get ze permit. And oh, sir, it takes so long."2 This moving account reports she was living in Manchester in Kersal, with her husband, an engineer (genealogical searches reveal him as Max Freund).

In fact, her career was covered internationally even before she came to the UK: reports of her 1936 performances in Prague in The Musical Courier reveal: "[she plays with] enrapturing brilliancy and stupendous technic [sic]. Spontaneous applause was her reward."3

In 1938, when Nazi Germany occupied the region known as the Sudetenland, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain described this advance into (then) Czechoslovakian territory as a "quarrel in a faraway country, between people of whom we know nothing". How this impacted Fuchsová’s journey to the UK is unknown since the Manchester newspaper account is our only real glimpse into her arrival. There is no information about when she received her ‘permit’ to perform. The education and charitable nature of her early performance work in the UK suggest a prolonged wait before she was allowed to receive fees for her performances.

Performances during World War II

During the war, Fuchsová’s engagements were mostly of Czech music, many were for charity appeals led by groups with names like ‘Friends of Czechoslovakia’. She played at a substantial number of schools and universities, often speaking about the history of Czech music. Her first advertised concert in the UK was at Hull Chamber of College in November 1940, when she was referred to as an ‘international pianist’, her playing was described as having ‘the lightness and delicacy of a butterfly.’4

Fuchsová regularly played Bedřich Smetana’s work, including his various Czech dances, often playing the charmingly named Slepicka (Little Hen). During 1940-45, in the five-year period of 74 performances that the dataset covers (1940-45), she played Smetana at least 45 times. In larger orchestral concerts, she played work by Josef Suk (1874–1935) and his Serenade for Strings in E flat major, Op. 6. She performed Dvořák’s ‘American Suite’, Suite in A major, Op. 98b, his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in G minor, Op. 33 as well as his more famous Largo section from Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95, B. 178, the New World Symphony. She also played a great deal of work by Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959).

She platformed many lesser-known Czech composers too, including Marko Tajčević (1990-1984) whose music was rarely played in Britain before or afterwards; Vilém Tauský (1910-2004) who was resident in the UK as a conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra; Vítězslav Novák (1870-1949), who has been slightly better remembered as a pupil of Dvořák; and Zdeněk Fibich (1850-1900). She also played music from other Nazi occupied countries, including Serbian composers Pedrag Milošević (Предраг Милошевић, 1904-1988) and Miloje Milojević (Милоје Милојевић, 1884-1946) and Hungarian composer Stephen Heller (1813-1888).

This was part of a wider outpouring of interest in Czech music, which seems to have been initiated in part by the Czech Government in exile, who had, together with the British Council, funded tours by groups like the Czech Trio which featured Maria Lidka. 1941 was also the year of Antonín Dvořák’s centenary, which saw a renewed interest in his output in concert programming. There was a huge show of public support in the UK for the people of Czechoslovakia after the Lidice Massacre in 1942. Fundraising took place across the UK, but most notably in Stoke-on-Trent. The town was, like Lidice, a mining town, and ‘Lidice Lives’ became a rallying call for community action there. This campaign also translated into concert programming.

The majority of Fuchsova’s 1942 concerts were given directly in relation to the war effort or in improving awareness of Czech music: the Staffordshire branch of the ‘The Czecho-Slovak-British Friendship Club’, the Liverpool ‘Friends of Czechoslovakia’ funded by the British Council; ‘Exhibition Czechoslovakia - organised by Czechoslovak soldiers and airmen, under the patronage of the British Council’; the ‘Yugoslav Relief Committee’; Liverpool’s celebration of Czech Independence Week; ‘Czechoslovak Week’ at Leeds City Museum; and the Lord Mayor of Manchester’s ‘Concert of Slavonic Music’ and Edinburgh’s ‘Usher Hall’s Allies Week’ (again funded by the British Council).

In 1943, Fuchsová played in Derby’s ‘Lidice Shall Live’ fundraising week, at Leeds City Museum’s commemoration of President Masaryk, and at a Franco-Slavonic recital in Bedford. In 1944, she began playing more lunchtime concerts, as well as continuing work sponsored by the Czechoslovakian Government in exile and the British Council, and multiple concerts around Czech Independence Day Celebrations.

Though we have little way of knowing how Fuchsová felt about her role as a musical ambassador to a country she could no longer live in, it is a crucial part of how her concerts were received and her professional status. In 1941, the Liverpool Daily Post reported that her playing "illustrated the wealth of composition among her people."5 In 1947, she recorded Smetana’s Czech Festival (České posvícení) in for HMV (JOX2).

Radio Broadcasts and Later Performing Life

Radio Broadcasts

Just as in the case of her concert programming, Fuchsová’s BBC Radio Broadcasts from 1943 till 1946 were about Czech music, and in particular work by Smetana, Suk, and Leoš Janáček (1854-1928). It was not until 1947 that she became a far more regular part of the Third Programme’s concert life, playing with musicians like Maria Lidka, Watson Forbes, and Geoffrey Gilbert (the British flute player). She seems to have been allowed a slightly wider repertoire of music, where she became part of broadcasting efforts to highlight contemporary composers like Elisabeth Lutyens (1906–1983), Italian composers like Luigi Cortese (1899-1976), Goffredo Petrassi (1904-2003) and Luigi Dallapiccola (1904-1975).

Like Paul Hamburger, Fuchsová regularly broadcast across both the Third Programme and the Home Service, where she played the broadcast premiere of Martinůs’s Sinfonietta Giocosa in June 1950. Back on the Third Programme, she played in broadcast premieres of work by Swedish composer Lars-Erik Larsson (1908-1986), and British composer Humphrey Searle (1915-1982).

She performed as soloist with many of the BBC orchestras: the BBC Welsh Orchestra, the BBC Midlands Light Orchestra, the BBC Midland Orchestra, the BBC North Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Orchestra, the BBC Concert Orchestra. She also performed on concert broadcasts as soloist for the London Chamber Orchestra, and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. In 1948, she played the English premiere of Bohuslav Martinů’s Concerto for Piano, H269 as part of the Proms with the London Symphony orchestra. Recordings of her work continued to be broadcast into the 1980s.

Later performing life: Duets and Trios

When Paul Hamburger’s duet partnership with Helen Pyke ended (perhaps because of Pyke’s illness), Fuchsová began a long partnership with him. They played together from 1954 until around 1975 (she died in 1977). Together, Hamburger and Fuchsová played nationally in concerts as well as performed on BBC radio over 100 times together (see the Radio Times), playing a wide variety of music from early Romantic composers like Charles-Valentin Alkin (1813-1888) to contemporary work by composers like Bernard Stevens. One review of a concert preserves something of the experience of watching them play:

'The piano duo (i.e. four hands on one piano) is one of the odder sub-sections of the piano repertoire. It can rise to sublime heights in a work like Schubert’s F Minor Fantasy, as Líza Fuchsova and Paul Hamburger confirmed.'6

She was also part of the Dumka Trio from c.1962-1972, with violinist Suzanne Rosza and cellist Vivian Joseph, which continued her deep connection with Dvořák. Notably in newspaper coverage of her work with the Trio, the focus is far more on the composer’s personal life and tragedies than his perceived national characteristics. A performance of Dvořák’s Piano Trio No. 2 in G minor, Op. 26, B 56 in Leicester Art Gallery is framed as the composer’s response to the tragic loss of his baby daughter, and the trio’s ability to draw out the inherent sorrow in the slow movement is commented on.7

While much of Fuchsová's story remains unknown, her extensive career as a concert pianist and her role as a cultural ambassador for Czech music in Britain is being rediscovered thanks to the possibilities of digital humanities-led research.

Further reading

Academic sources

Blyth, Alan (2001) “Hamburger, Paul.” Grove Music Online; Accessed 9 Jan. 2023. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000042603.

Lim, Lemy Sungyoun (2010) The Reception of Women Pianists in London, 1950-60. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City University London).

Raab Hansen, Jutta (2009) ‘Czechoslovak Musicians in British Exile 1939–1945’ in Exile in and from Czechoslovakia during the 1930s and 1940s, ed. by Charmian Brinson and Marian Malet, Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill. doi: 10.1163/9789042029606_013, pp. 197–214.


Naxos Biography

Obituaries in which she is mentioned:

Anna Naysmith

Suzanne Rozsa (in the Guardian)

Further links

Wikidata overview


The British Library holds several recordings of Líza’s broadcasting career. With the Dumka Trio she recorded several of Dvorak’s pieces. One album is available on Spotify and similar streaming services.


1Jutta Raab Hansen, ‘Czechoslovak Musicians in British Exile 1939–1945’ in Exile in and from Czechoslovakia during the 1930s and 1940s, ed. by Charmian Brinson and Marian Malet, Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill (2009). doi: 10.1163/9789042029606_013, pp. 197–214p. 208.

2‘Mr Manchester’, Manchester Evening News, 24 October 1939, p. 4.

3Musical Courier, 19 December 1936, p. 111.

4Hull Daily Mail, 25 November 1940, p. 3.

5Liverpool Daily Post, 20 October 1941, p. 3.

6‘Fuchsova and Hamburger’, Birmingham Daily Post, 24 November 1975, p. 14.

7Leicester Daily Mercury, 28 January 1972, p. 13.

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