Monday April 20 2020

The Archive is delighted to have received in February a collection of items relating to contralto Kathleen Ferrier. Ferrier played an important role in Britten’s early career. He wrote music with her sumptuous and expressive voice in mind, specifically Spring Symphony and Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac. In 1946 Ferrier made her stage debut in the lead role of The Rape of Lucretia with the Glyndebourne Festival Opera. She performed frequently with Pears, particularly in oratorios in the late 1940s including Bach’s St Matthew Passion, Handel’s Messiah and Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius. It was at a performance of Messiah with Pears at Westminster Abbey in May 1943 that Britten first heard her sing. Like Britten and Pears, Ferrier toured village and concert halls during WWII performing for CEMA, the forerunner of the Arts Council.

Concert programme signed by Ferrier, Britten and Pears.

This acquisition is atypical for our Archive in that the papers were actively put together by a collector rather than being the personal papers of a singer or artist amassed during the course their working life. The papers were collected by Ferrier expert and enthusiast Paul Campion – he explains what inspired him to make his collection: ‘Kathleen Ferrier’s appeal for me lies in the extraordinary combination of a truly individual beautiful voice and a straightforward, down to earth personality.

Ferrier was not a woman to take herself too seriously but she took her music very seriously indeed. She progressed from having a fairly modest upbringing and profession to being one of the most famous women in the country, popular with both classical music enthusiasts and many thousands of people who had no knowledge of ‘serious music’, but who admired and loved the warmth of the personality that was expressed through her rich, unmistakeable voice.

By collecting memorabilia, by writing and lecturing I hope to increase awareness of what she achieved internationally in just a few short years. Her life story has inspired and motivated me and I think I am quite a lot in love with her!’

The collection is wonderfully varied including programmes, photographs, books, published scores, periodicals and recordings, all of which greatly enhance our resources on Ferrier available to both for researchers and visitors to The Red House. There are colourful and unusual details such as a commemorative stamp from the Britons of Distinction set issued in Ferrier’s centenary year, showing her in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice at Glyndebourne Festival Opera in 1947, her first appearance in this role. Orfeo and Lucretia were her only two operatic roles and her final public appearance was as Orfeo at the Royal Opera House in February 1953, eight months before her death.

First Class Stamp featuring Ferrier.

A real treasure in the collection is Ferrier’s own copy of the published score for Orpheus, used by her, featuring her annotations and hand written English translation. She worked on an English version of the work with her friend the conductor John Barbirolli.

Ferrier’s copy of Gluck’s Orpheus.

The collection also includes Ferrier’s own copy of Stainer and Barrett’s Dictionary of Musical Terms published in 1898. This was a present to the young Ferrier and is identical to the copy given to Britten as a boy which can be seen in our permanent exhibition – presumably the standard textbook for budding musicians of their time!

The periodicals and press cuttings in the collection are useful and interesting, featuring articles about Ferrier and reviews of her performances and recordings, from 1944 up to centenary articles from 2012. These range from a colourful and fun biography from a 1954 Girl magazine to an advertisement from an American journal. Ferrier made many successful recital and concert tours abroad; three to the USA and Canada between 1948 and 1950 and many visits to Europe.

Ferrier in a strip featured in Girl magazine.


Promotional material featuring Ferrier.

As well as holding events, talks and exhibitions, Paul published the book ‘Ferrier – A Career Recorded‘ dealing with her career as a recording artist. Included in the recent deposit are Paul’s useful and extensive research materials for this book – a true wealth of information and great addition to our Ferrier research resources!