Kathleen Ferrier

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Ferrier, Kathleen (Mary)

Ferrier, Kathleen (Mary), remarkable English contralto; b. Higher Walton, Lancashire, April 22, 1912;d. London, Oct. 8, 1953. She grew up in Blackburn, where she studied piano and began voice lessons with Thomas Duerden. In 1937 she won 1st prizes for piano and singing at the Carlisle Competition; she then decided on a career as a singer, and subsequently studied voice with J.E. Hutchinson in Newcastle upon Tyne and with Roy Henderson in London. After an engagement as a soloist in Messiah at Westminster Abbey in 1943, she began her professional career in full earnest. Britten chose her to create the title role in his Rape of Lucretia (Glyndebourne, July 12, 1946); she also sang Orfeo in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice there in 1947 and at Covent Garden in 1953. She made her American debut with the N.Y. Phil. on Jan. 15, 1948, singing Das Lied von der Erde, with Bruno Walter conducting. She made her American recital debut in N.Y. on March 29, 1949. Toward the end of her brief career, she acquired in England an almost legendary reputation for vocal excellence and impeccable taste, so that her untimely death (from cancer) was greatly mourned. In 1953 she was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire and received the Gold Medal of the Royal Phil. Soc.


N. Cardus, ed., K. K, A Memoir (London, 1955; 2nd ed., rev., 1969); W. Ferrier, The Life of K. F. (London, 1955); C. Rigby, K. F. (London, 1955); W. Ferrier, K. F., Her Life (London, 1959); P. Lethbridge, K. F. (London, 1959); M. Leonard, K.: The Life ofK. F.: 1912–1953 (London, 1988); J. Spycket, K. F. (Lausanne, 1990); P. Campion, F.: A Career Recorded (London, 1992);B. Mailliet Le Penven, La voix de K. F.: Essai (Paris, 1997).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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Ferrier, Kathleen (Mary) (b Higher Walton, Lancs., 1912; d London, 1953). Eng. contralto. Began mus. career as pianist and acc. in N. of Eng. competitive fests. Worked as telephone switchboard operator. Entered singing competition, Carlisle 1937, winning Rose Bowl. London début in Messiah, Westminster Abbey 1943, after which she rose rapidly to a leading position among Brit. singers in Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius, Bach's St Matthew Passion, and other works. Opera début Glyndebourne 1946 (Lucretia in The Rape of Lucretia). Noted exponent of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde under batons of Walter (with whom she sang the work at Salzburg 1949) and Barbirolli, and frequently appeared in recitals with Britten and Pears. Soloist in f. Brit. p. of Mahler's 3rd sym., 1947. The beauty of her v., combined with a warm and humorous personality, endeared her to audiences, and her early death from cancer was profoundly and widely mourned. Last appearance was at CG 1953 in Orfeo, cond. Barbirolli. Royal Phil. Soc. Gold Medal, 1953. CBE 1953.

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Ferrier, Kathleen (1912–53) English contralto. She sang the title role in the first performance of Benjamin Britten's The Rape of Lucretia (1946) at Glyndebourne, England, and was also acclaimed as Orpheus in Christoph Gluck's Orfeo. She died early of cancer.

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Kathleen Ferrier, 1912–53, British contralto, b. Higher Walton, Lancashire. Ferrier began voice lessons at 25. She became known for her rich, expressive, and remarkably low voice. Her celebrated performances include the title role in the premiere of Benjamin Britten's Rape of Lucretia (1946). Ferrier's interpretations of Gluck's Orfeo, the angel in Elgar's Dream of Gerontius, and works of Mahler and Brahms were greatly acclaimed.