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Subject: [OBITS] BLISS: Trudy Hoffman Bliss 2008
Date: Sun, 23 Nov 2008 13:46:01 -0000
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Lady Bliss was the wife of Sir Arthur Bliss and custodian of his legacy who forged her own career as an author and broadcaster.
Last Updated: 7:13PM GMT 21 Nov 2008
Lady Bliss, who died yesterday aged 104, was the wife of the composer Sir Arthur Bliss (1891-1975), Master of the Queen's Musick from 1953 to 1975.
After his death she was the custodian of his music, forming the Bliss Charitable Trust which, under her encouragement, initiated recordings and performances, as well as fostering the talents of young composers.
In her own right she was an authority on Jane Welsh Carlyle, the wife of Thomas Carlyle, the letters of both of whom she selected for publication; she was also a broadcaster and the author of a radio play.
Throughout her life Trudy Bliss exhibited the characteristics of her New England ancestry: a high-minded ethos, an inquiring mind, determination and practicality. For instance, after she married Bliss, in order to understand more about his profession she studied music theory at the Royal College of Music with RO Morris and also took singing lessons.
The years immediately following the war were the period in which Trudy Bliss was most active with her own creative endeavours: in 1946 Come Into the Kitchen, a wartime book of recipes for children written in collaboration with Alexie Gordon, was published. In the introductory note she wrote: "When your child is cooking, don't hover. Don't make suggestions, unless, of course, your advice is asked." The remark was typical, for, being a perfectionist, she had to make a great effort to let people do things in their own way.
In 1949 her Jane Welsh Carlyle - A Selection of her Letters was published by Victor Gollancz, and was critically commended for its scholarly selection and commentary. Its success led to an edition four years later of Thomas Carlyle: Letters to his Wife, also published by Gollancz.
Trudy Bliss had a natural gift for broadcasting: in the last years of the war she contributed to a BBC programme called The Kitchen Front in which she offered various American recipes. Soon afterwards she was invited to give weekly broadcasts on the North American Service in which she spoke on aspects of British life and events that she thought would interest American audiences.
For the BBC Home Service she wrote Trains of Thought and Flights of Fancy, which comprised a montage of sounds and words; while 1946 saw the broadcast of her radio play Memorial Concert, in which music composed by her husband played an integral part.
She was born Gertrude Hoffmann on April 2 1904 at Belmont, Massachusetts, the youngest child of a New England family of teachers and doctors. Her father, Ralph Hoffmann, was a distinguished naturalist from whom she gained a love and knowledge of botany and birds.
In 1919 Trudy Hoffmann moved to Santa Barbara, California, where her father founded the Natural History Museum. From 1922 to 1924 she studied at Radcliffe College, Massachusetts, and during the summer vacation of 1924 she met the 33-year-old composer Arthur Bliss (who was himself half-American) whilst she was acting in an amateur production of the Kaufman/Connelly play The Beggar on Horseback in Santa Barbara. The couple married there in June 1925 and settled in London the same year.
Thereafter she provided the bedrock of support for her husband's career to flourish; in 1929 he dedicated to her the Serenade for Orchestra and Baritone, a work in praise of love and radiating the happiness of their marriage. Although primarily based in Hampstead, in 1934 the Blisses built a country house (and a retreat at which Bliss could compose), Pen Pitts, in Somerset, which was designed in a Bauhaus-influenced style by Peter Harland.
There they played host to a wide circle of friends which reflected their broad artistic interests; among the visitors were the artists Paul Nash, Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, the theatre director Bridges Adams, the poet Cecil Day-Lewis and composers such as Gerald Finzi.
Then, in June 1939 the Blisses and their two daughters sailed to the United States for the premiere of Bliss's Piano Concerto in New York, and they were in America when war was declared. Although there was no question of Trudy Bliss and her daughters returning to England, Arthur increasingly felt that he should do so to assist the war effort.
Of his wife's support he wrote in his autobiography, As I Remember, that she "remained always wonderfully understanding, never trying to influence me one way or another: she knew with the clearest intuition what was involved and what might be the consequences in future happiness of the final decision".
Arthur Bliss returned to England in 1941 when he was offered the post of Director of Music at the BBC. The period of separation was hard for them both, but in November 1943 the family were reunited, Trudy Bliss and her daughters travelling via Portugal and by flying boat which landed in Poole Harbour.
The Portuguese boat on which they crossed the Atlantic had a great number of children (including Shirley, now Baroness, Williams) who had been sent to America on the outbreak of war, but whose parents now deemed it better for them to be at home.
Trudy Bliss's skills in practical organisation were put to the test as, together with the writer Alexie Gordon and Robert Mayer (the founder of Youth Music), she devised games and occupations for the unchaperoned and somewhat unruly children.
After Arthur Bliss became Master of the Queen's Musick in 1953, Trudy Bliss supported him in this role. For instance, in 1956 she accompanied him on a tour to Russia under the auspices of the British Council when he led the first group of British musicians to visit the country since the end of the war.
The tour was significant to Britain on both cultural and diplomatic levels; on one occasion, at a reception, Trudy Bliss found herself unexpectedly sitting next to Khrushchev, whom she charmed. The tour was deemed an outstanding success in improving Anglo-Soviet cultural relations.
Following Bliss's death in 1975, Trudy Bliss devoted herself to fostering her husband's music. In 1980 she worked with Lewis Forman and George Dannatt on a Catalogue of the Complete Works, and in 1987 she formed the Bliss Charitable Trust, of which she was initially the chairman and in which she took an active interest until her 98th year.
In her later years she developed an interest in geology, and was a gracious hostess at the Blisses' post-war London home, 8 The Lane, St John's Wood, especially welcoming to the growing admirers from a younger generation of her husband's music.
With them, too, she shared her enthusiasm for the visual arts, botany and her considerable literary knowledge (Henry James being among her favourite authors). Even when well into her eighties she would rise early in the morning to swim in a neighbour's pool.
Lady Bliss is survived by her two daughters.
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