In the early part of the 20th century, Harriet Cohen, an Academy alumna, was a household name. Superficially known for her beauty and glamour, she wielded influence with some of the most important literary, political and cultural figures of her time – and she was a remarkable pianist. In this episode, Anna Picard explores Harriet’s life and legacy, placing her alongside her pianist contemporaries Myra Hess and Irene Scharrer, and the man who taught them all, Tobias Matthay. We explore the Academy’s pedagogical tradition, discuss the ‘male gaze’ with Joanna MacGregor and hear from the late, great Quentin Crisp.

  • Presenter: Anna Picard
  • Producer: Natalie Steed
  • Contributors: Helen Fry, Joanna MacGregor, Stephen Siek, Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, Allyson Devenish, Rebecca Leung
  • Executive Producers, Royal Academy of Music: George Chambers, Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, Safi Schlicht

Featured music:

  • JS Bach Piano Concerto No 1 in D minor, BWV 1052, performed by Harriet Cohen
  • JS Bach Prelude No 1 in C, BWV 846, performed by Harriet Cohen
  • JS Bach arr Cohen Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier, BWV 731, performed by Harriet Cohen
  • Mozart Piano Sonata No 5 in G, K 283, performed by Irene Scharrer
  • Ravel Pavane pour une infante défunte performed by Myra Hess
  • JS Bach Prelude and Fugue in F sharp, BWV 858, performed by Academy student Rebecca Leung
  • Kabalevsky Piano Sonatina in C, Op 13 No 1, performed by Harriet Cohen
  • Bax A Mountain Mood performed by Harriet Cohen

With thanks to APR recordings for the use of their transfers of the historic recordings listed above. All are available on at

About the Podcast

Since the Royal Academy of Music was founded in 1822, its aim has been to shape the future of music by discovering and nurturing talent wherever it exists.

To mark our bicentenary, we've created this podcast to celebrate and uncover some of the stories of those people, past and present, that resonate throughout our building and define the institution. You'll hear about those working and studying at the Academy today, some of the famous people that have passed through our doors as well as those whose musical lives might have been overlooked but deserve to be told.