photo: Corinna Desch
Jessica was born in London, where her parents settled after leaving South Africa. She regrets that she can’t remember her encounter with JRR Tolkein in Oxford at the age of six, which has become a family legend. She first tried to write a novel when she was 12 and her efforts soon found their way into the hands of a distinguished author and a literary agent, who both provided valuable encouragement. After studying music at Cambridge and piano with Joan Havill at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, she worked as an editor in music publishing and magazines for ten years, then went freelance to concentrate on writing.

Her journalism has appeared in The Independent, The Guardian and The Sunday Times, as well as BBC Music Magazine, Opera News and numerous other journals.

She has given pre-concert talks at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, the Wigmore and the Royal Festival Hall and served on the juries of the Royal Philharmonic Society Awards and the BBC Music Magazine CD Awards. Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog has frequently been ranked among the world's top blogs of its kind.

Her latest novel, Ghost Variations, is inspired by the true story of how the Schumann Violin Concerto was rediscovered in the 1930s. Others focus on the tensions and cross-currents between family generations, ranging from a painful exploration of the effects of anorexia (Rites of Spring) and the rearing of a child prodigy (Alicia’s Gift) to the long-term effects of displacement and cultural clashes (Hungarian Dances and Songs of Triumphant Love). Music is a recurring theme and in 2009 the celebrated violin and piano duo Philippe Graffin and Claire Désert recorded a CD inspired by Hungarian Dances, designed as a companion to the novel (on Onyx Classics).

Jessica’s first play, A Walk Through the End of Time, a one-act drama introducing Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, was commissioned by her frequent collaborator, violinist Philippe Graffin, the artistic director of the Consonances Festival, Saint-Nazaire, in 2007 and won her the Medal of the Town of Saint-Nazaire (see Stage Works). She and the great tenor Robert Tear gave the play’s UK premiere in 2008. Further performances have included the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, in the International Wimbledon Music Festival and the Ryedale Festival in Yorkshire, and among its actors have been Dame Harriet Walter, Janet Suzman, Michael Pennington, Guy Paul and Henry Goodman. Sins of the Fathers, Jessica’s first full-length play, is a fantastical comedy about Wagner, Liszt and Cosima, created for the International Wimbledon Music Festival in 2013, Wagner’s bicentenary year, and presented at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, starring John Sessions, Jeremy Child and Sarah Gabriel.

Jessica frequently appears as narrator in concert versions of her novels Ghost Variations, Hungarian Dances (both with violin and piano) and Alicia’s Gift (with solo piano). Hungarian Dances was devised for the Fiddles on Fire Festival at The Sage, Gateshead and King’s Place, London, in 2009. Alicia’s Gift, suggested by the pianist Viv McLean, launched in November 2013 and has been presented in venues including the Wigmore Hall, the Buxton Festival, the Kensington & Chelsea Music Society and the Chopin Society, London.

Jessica’s first books were biographies of the composers Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Gabriel Fauré (see Books). She wrote the text for Inside London, Dorothy Bohm’s photographic portrait of the city, and has published several short stories, including Too Much Mozart, commissioned by Graffin for the booklet of his CD with Nobuko Imai of the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante. She lives in London with her husband and cat, and enjoys theatre, playing the piano, cookery, jogging and plundering second-hand bookshops for out-of-print gems.