Kathleen Ferrier

English contralto (Preston 1912 – London 1953)

Kathleen Ferrier was an English contralto who lived during the first half of the 20th century. She built for herself an international fame with a wide repertoire, covering popular songs and classical music (Brahms, Elgar, Handel, Mahler).

Kathleen Ferrier started her musical education by studying the piano with Frances Walker, a reputed teacher. After winning several distinctions at many piano competitions, Kathleen Ferrier gave her first recital in 1930 in Manchester at the BBC studios. It was her first radio experience. In 1931, she graduated from the Royal Academy of Music and started to take singing lessons.

In 1937, Kathleen Ferrier won two first prizes at the Carlisle Festival competition. She sang at different occasions and was noticed during a radio show. Then she became the student of J. E. Hutchinson. She had the opportunity to perform alongside soprano Isobel Baillie and got accepted at the Ibbs and Tillett agency in London. Kathleen Ferrier was more and more requested, she sang at the National Gallery, at the Westminster Abbey, at the Proms in London, but she mainly sang isolated tunes. In 1946 however, Benjamin Britten convinced her to create the part of Lucretia in The Rape of Lucretia. A short time later, she sings Orfeo in Orfeo ed Euridice of Gluck, Mahler’s symphony Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of Earth), Mass in B Minor of Bach

Kathleen Ferrier was then at the peak of her career. She toured in the United States, in Netherlands and other European countries. She often sang at the Royal Albert Hall and performed seven times at the Edinburgh Festival. Suffering of cancer, she nevertheless did not stop singing during her treatment. She died in 1953, leaving her audience chocked and moved by her disappearance.

Six landmark dates in the life of Kathleen Ferrier

1937: double first prize at the Carlisle Festival, in piano and singing
1938: gold cup at the Workington Festival
1939: first performance on a radio show, the one of Cecil McGivern’s (BBC)
1942: first recital in London
1945: first appearance at the Proms of London
1948: first tour in North America

Key Recordings by Kathleen Ferrier

Kathleen Ferrier Editions (KFE) by Decca, 10 CDs including the majority of her studio recordings and some of her live performances 

In particular
Bach, Mass in B Minor
Chausson, Poème de l’amour et de la mer
Gluck, Orfeo ed Euridice
Handel, Messiah
Mahler, The Song of Earth
Folkloric chants, Blow the wind southerly