Sir Stephen Andrew Gill Hough CBE (/ˈhʌf/; 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).
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.
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. 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.
Hough studied at Chetham's School of Music, which he later called "not a wonderful place while I was there", and at the Royal Northern College of Music. 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 Royal Philharmonic Society Julius Isserlis Scholarship for study abroad. He has studied with Heather Slade-Lipkin, Gordon Green, Adele Marcus, Martin Canin, and Derrick Wyndham. A prominent soloist, he is also a composer and transcriber, and often includes his own works in his recitals. He has published over 30 pieces. His cello concerto, written for Steven Isserlis, premiered in March 2007, and in the summer of that year, Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral performed masses he wrote for them.
In 2009, members of the Berlin Philharmonic premiered Hough's trio for piccolo, contrabassoon and piano (Was mit den Traenen geschieht) at the Philharmonie. His song cycles Herbstlieder (2007), Other Love Songs (2010), and Dappled Things (2016) were premiered by members of The Prince Consort. He premiered his Sonata for Piano (broken branches) 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. The Colorado Symphony and Andrew Litton recorded this work for Hyperion Records in 2015. Hough has written four sonatas for solo piano. In 2020, his anthology of essays Rough Ideas won the Royal Philharmonic Society Award for the Storytelling Category.
Hough has recorded more than 60 albums, 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 then music director Andrew Litton, which have been compared to Rachmaninoff's own recordings. These recordings won him his seventh Gramophone Award as well as the Classical BRIT Critics Award.
Hough's recording of Saint-Saëns's piano 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. His recording of the complete Chopin waltzes won the Diapason d'Or de l'Année in 2011.
Hough is also known for championing lesser-known composers considered outside the standard repertoire, such as Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Xaver Scharwenka, York Bowen, and Federico Mompou.
Hough's compositions can be heard on the BIS Records album Broken Branches and on the Prince Consort album Other Love Songs, on Linn Records. His second piano sonata (notturno luminoso) appears on his album In The Night, and his cello sonata on a recital disc with Steven Isserlis. His sequence Hallowed for unaccompanied choir was recorded by Harry Christophers and The Sixteen on their CD 'Star of Heaven'. Yo-Yo Ma recorded two of his transcriptions on his album with Kathryn Stott, Song of Comfort and Hope. Hough's fourth piano sonata is the title track on his 2021 album Vida Breve.
In 2017, Pentatone-Oxingale Records released an album commemorating the inaugural opening of the Tippet Rise Festival, featuring Hough, Christopher O’Riley, and Matt Haimovitz, among others.
Hough 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.
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.
Hough has written about his homosexuality and its relationship with both his music-making and his religion. For 15 years, following his Catholic vocation, he was celibate. In 2007, he published The Bible as Prayer: a handbook for lectio divina.
Nosing Around, his little book on perfume, was published in 2014. 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 published by Faber & Faber in 2019 and by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2020.
In 2008, Hough won the Sixth International Poetry Competition.
From 2010 to 2015, he wrote a blog for The Daily Telegraph.
Hough had a solo exhibition of his paintings at the Broadbent Gallery in London in October 2012.
In October 2016, Hough was the guest on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs. His choices were Cortot's recording of Chopin'sPrélude No. 17 in A-flat, Rachmaninoff's recording of Kreisler's Liebesleid, Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven, the Kyrie eleison from Bach's Mass in B minor, the third movement of Alban Berg's Lyric Suite, his own sonata for cello and piano left hand ("Les adieux"), and Bird Songs at Eventide by Eric Coates.
His favourite was "Proficiscere, anima Christiana (Go Forth)" from Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius. 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.
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 30 more 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 unable to do so before his death in 1980 at the age of 54.
Hough 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 received an honorary doctorate from the University of Liverpool in 2011.
In 2001, Hough became the first classical music performer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship. In 2009, The Economist and Intelligent Life magazines named him one of 20 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 and of Music in Prisons (Irene Taylor Trust).
Hough was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to music. 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 to 2022 he was a visiting fellow at Lady Margaret Hall at the University of Oxford. He was created a Knight Bachelor, for services to music, in the Queen's 2022 Birthday Honours.