Kathleen Ferrier

Kathleen Ferrier

Kathleen Mary Ferrier CBE (22 April 1912 – 8 October 1953) was an English contralto, born in Higher Walton, Lancashire. She later moved with her family to Blackburn, Lancashire.

She came to prominence as a singer during and immediately after the Second World War, and was especially remembered for her courageous performances during her final illness. Offstage, she had a vivacious personality, and gave herself the nickname "Klever Kaff". [ [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2003/09/08/btkath08.xml Rupert Christiansen, "The glory of 'Klever Kaff'". "Telegraph", 8 September 2003.] ]


Ferrier left school at 14 and worked as a telephone operator in Blackburn. She married a bank manager named Bert Wilson in 1935, and moved to Silloth and later to Carlisle, Cumberland in the north of England.

Whilst in Carlisle, her husband bet her that she would not take part in a music competition. She entered and won in two categories - singing and piano. It was this which brought her talents to public attention, and was a significant factor in her deciding to pursue a career in singing. During the early days of the war she gave concerts for the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) and then, on the advice of Malcolm Sargent, [http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/profiles/ferrier.shtml Everything you need to know about Kathleen Ferrier] , "BBC". URL last accessed on April 4, 2006.] moved to London in 1942, where her main career began. She later divorced her husband on the grounds of his inability to consummate the marriage. [ http://www.granta.com/Magazine/76 "Klever Kaff", Ian Jack, "Granta 76: Music"] ]


She studied with Dr Hutchinson in Newcastle and later with baritone Roy Henderson, who was a well known singing teacher at the time. The unique timbre of her voice was in part due to a medical anomaly: her throat was exceptionally wide.Fact|date=August 2007


Ferrier excelled in the music of Mahler, in Bach and in Handel. Her recitals often included songs by Schubert, Schumann and Brahms and towards the end of her career she sang Chausson's "Poeme de l'amour et de la mer" - her only major work from the French repertory. Ferrier is perhaps best-remembered for her interpretations of British folk songs, including"Blow the wind southerly".

She was in demand throughout the UK, and also sang regularly in the Netherlands, where she was extremely popular, and in France, Germany, Italy and in Scandinavia. She paid three visits to North America (1948, 1949 and 1950) and sang at each of the first six Edinburgh International Festivals .

Benjamin Britten wrote several works specifically for her, including Lucretia in "The Rape of Lucretia", "Abraham and Isaac" (also written for Peter Pears), and part of the "Spring Symphony (1949)". Among other composers who wrote specifically for her were Lennox Berkeley, Arthur Bliss and Edmund Rubbra.

She worked with many famous conductors, including Bruno Walter, John Barbirolli, Malcolm Sargent, Clemens Krauss, Otto Klemperer, Herbert von Karajan, Eduard van Beinum and also with Benjamin Britten. She also worked with other famous singers such as Isobel Baillie, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Julius Patzak and Peter Pears.

She had previously sung Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice at Glyndebourne in 1947 and in the Netherlands in 1949 and 1951. A recording of the latter was found in the archives of the Dutch National Opera and released on vinyl in the early 1980s, but the Royal Opera House performance was sung in English.

Final role

Her final role was in Christoph Willibald Gluck's "Orfeo ed Euridice" at Covent Garden in February 1953.


Already seriously ill with breast cancer, which had spread to her bones, she got through the opening night of "Orfeo" successfully, but at the second performance her left thighbone partly disintegrated and a chip caused her great pain. Despite this, she finished the performance (without moving around), and the audience did not find out that anything unusual had happened. She had to leave the theatre on a stretcher. It was her final performance: not long afterwards, she died on 8 October, 1953, aged 41.

Popular recitals

Works she was particularly well known for include:
* Bach
** "St. Matthew Passion"
** "B Minor Mass"
* Brahms
** "Alto Rhapsody"
**"Vier Ernste Gesänge"
* Chausson, "Poème de l'amour et de la Mer"
* Elgar, "The Dream of Gerontius"
* Mahler
** "Das Lied von der Erde"
** "Kindertotenlieder"
** "Rückert Lieder"
* Gluck, "Orfeo ed Euridice"
* Handel, "Messiah"
* Schumann, "Frauenliebe und -leben"
* Various folk songs, including "Blow the wind southerly", "The Keel Row".

Ferrier performed some of these pieces in both their original language, and also in English. Examples include the "St. Matthew Passion", arias by Bach and Handel, and Gluck's "Orfeo". Ferrier made numerous recordings in her short career, though some of her performances were not recorded, or recordings were destroyed. These include performances of Elgar's "The Dream of Gerontius", and "Messiah".

Music samples


*Bach, "B Minor Mass", Suzanne Danco, Kathleen Ferrier, Peter Pears, Bruce Boyce, Norman Walker, BBC Chorus, Boyd Neel Orchestra, conducted by George Enescu, (1951), BBC
*Bach, "St Matthew Passion", Greene, Suddaby, Ferrier, Cummings, Bach Choir, Jacques Orchestra, conducted by Reginald Jacques, Decca, now on Dutton. (1947/8)
*Bach and Handel arias (sung in English), London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Adrian Boult, Decca, recorded 7th and 8th October, 1952.
*Brahms, "Alto Rhapsody, Op 53", Men of the Oslo Philharmonic Chorus, Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Erik Tuxen, Oslo (1949), APR
*Brahms, Alto Rhapsody, Op 53, Danish Radio Male Chorus, Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Fritz Busch (Copenhagen, 6 Oct., 1949, "live perf."), Danacord

*Brahms, "Alto Rhapsody, Op 53", London Philharmonic Choir, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Clemens Krauss, (1947), Dutton (transferred from Decca)
*Benjamin Britten, "The Rape of Lucretia" (1946), Kathleen Ferrier, contralto (Lucretia), Peter Pears, Joan Cross, Owen Brannigan (Collatinus), Edmund Donleavy (Junius), Otakar Kraus, baritone (Tarquin), Anna Pollak (Bianca), Margaret Ritchie (Lucia) English Opera Group Orchestra directed by Hans Oppenheim, Gala
*Mahler, "Das Lied von der Erde", Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Bruno Walter, Julius Patzak (tenor), Decca, Polygram
*Mahler, "Das Lied von der Erde", Hallé Orchestra, John Barbirolli, Richard Lewis (tenor), 1952, APR
*Mahler, "Das Lied von der Erde", New York Philharmonic, Bruno Walter, Set Svanholm (tenor), 1948, Naxos
*Mahler, "Kindertotenlieder", Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Bruno Walter, EMI, 1949
*Mahler, "Kindertotenlieder", Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, Decca 1951
*Mahler, "Symphony No. 2 in C minor "Resurrection", also Jo Vincent (Soprano), Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, (1951), Archipel
*Schumann, "Frauenliebe und -leben", Brahms and Schubert lieder, live at the 1949 Edinburgh Festival accompanied on the piano by Bruno Walter, Decca, 1949


*"Kathleen Ferrier - An Ordinary Diva", BBC Films, distributed by Universal Music & Video
*"The life of Kathleen Ferrier" by Winifred Ferrier, Readers Union, 1956
*"Letters and Diaries of Kathleen Ferrier" by Christopher Fifield (Editor), The Boydell Press, 2003
*"Kathleen Ferrier" by Jérôme Spycket
*"Kathleen Ferrier" An article from "Musical Opinion" by Judith Monk
*"La voix de Kathleen Ferrier" Essai by Benoît Mailliet Le Penven
*"Kathleen Ferrier, 1912-1953" A memoir by Neville Cardus, London, Hamilton, 1954
*"Ferrier - A Career Recorded" (detailed discography) by Paul Campion, Thames/Elkin, 2005
*"Kathleen" by Maurice Leonard, Hutchinson 1988


External links

* [http://www.st-and.demon.co.uk/JBSoc/journal/feb_97/kf.html Sir John Barbirolli's tribute]
* [http://www.iclassics.com/iclassics/artists_result.jsp?entityId=281 iClassics discography]
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/profiles/ferrier.shtml Artist Profiles: Kathleen Ferrier]
* [http://www.ferrierawards.org.uk/main/KathleenFerrierDiscography.asp Selected discography]

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