Ferrier, Kathleen

English  contralto, 1912 - 1953

Biographical notes:

Kathleen Ferrier was born on April 22, 1912, in a Lancashire village in the north of Enland. Despite the limited financial means of the household, her mother insisted that Kathleen should have a proper education. Very early on, she became fascinated by the piano. Although a very bright student, she seemed to go on to university, but unfortunately, funds were lacking and she had to leave school at the age of 14 to start work as a telephone operator. As a pianist she participated in the many local festivals and won numerous prizes. Very soon, she accompanied her singing friends. In 1935 Ferrier married  and the couple moved to Carlisle (the marriage turned out to be an unhappy one and was later annulled). It was her husband who challenged her to enter the Carlisle Festival for singing. After winning both the piano and singing prizes there in 1937, she decided to work as a professional singer, learning by appearing wherever she was asked. She studied with J.E. Hutchinson, who built her repertoire (songs by Purcell, Bach’s B minor Mass and Passions according to Saint John and Saint Matthew, excerpts from cantatas, Italian arias, oratorios by Handel and Elgars’ The Dream of Gerontius). She continued her studies with Roy Henderson, a former baritone and dedicated teacher who also introduced her to German songs. Within a short time Kathleen Ferrier became one of the world’s leading concert artists. She enjoyed tremendous success in Mahler’s orchestral songs, in songs by Brahms, Schubert and Schumann as well as in oratorios. She worked with all the celebrated conductors of the time like Monteux, Enescu, Karajan, Van Beinum, Erich Kleiber, Busch and Schuricht, to name but a few. The artist also reintroduced many previously neglected British songs to her audiences. She told in interviews that working with her mentor and fatherly friend Bruno Walter was probably of the greatest importance to her. Glyndebourne Festival saw her as Lucretia in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia and Orfeo in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Eudridice (sung in English), her only two operatic roles. In 1951, a first operation interrupted her touring and, two years later, death of breast cancer put an early end to her too brief career.


“A soul full of joy” (Bruno Walter)


Peter Pears, Kathleen Ferrier and Benjamin Britten - looking at the score of “The Rape of Lucretia” (the “score” was a telephone directory...)


As Orfeo, Covent Garden, 1953


Official portrait, 1951


Recordings: (selection)

Kathleen Ferrier Edition Vol. 1 - 10  (10 CD)


Vol. 1: Gluck - Orfeo ed Euridice (abridged)

Vol. 2: Bach - Matthäus-Passion (Arias and Choruses)

Vol. 3: Gluck / Händel / Bach / Mendelssohn / Pergolesi (Arias)

Vol. 4: Schumann - Frauenliebe und -leben / Brahms - Lieder / Schubert - Lieder

Vol. 5: Brahms - Vier ernste Gesänge / Chausson - Poème de l’Amour et de la Mer - British Songs

Vol. 6: Broadcast Recitals

Vol. 7: Bach / Händel (Oratorio Arias)

Vol. 8: Blow the Wind Southerly (British Songs)

Vol. 9: Schubert - Lieder / Brahms - Lieder / Schumann - Lieder (BBC Broadcast from the 1949 Edinburgh Festival, with Bruno Walter, including an introduction by the artist)

Vol. 10: Brahms - Alto Rhapsody and Lieder / Mahler - Rückert-Lieder

Bach - Mass in B minor (Enescu)

BBC Legends

Bach - St. Matthew Passion / Pergolesi - Stabat mater


Bach - St. Matthew Passion (Karajan)


Brahms - Alto Rhapsodie and Songs / Beethoven - Symphony 5 (Furtwängler)


Brahms - Symphony 1 / Alto Rhapsodie (Van Beinum/Krauss)


Britten - The Rape of Lucretia (Amsterdam 1946)


Elgar’s Interpreters on Record Vol. 1


Gluck - Orfeo ed Euridice (Stiedry/abridged/Glyndebourne)


Kathleen Ferrier - Historical Recordings 1947 - 1952


Kathleen Ferrier - Songs My Father Taught Me                          (K.F. in a tipsy mood after a party, singing and playing the piano. Roy Henderson, Gerald Moore and Benjamin Britten talk about the artist)


Mahler - Symphony 2 (Klemperer)

BBC Legends

Mahler - Kindertotenlieder (Klemperer) / Brahms - Liebeslieder- Walzer (Seefried, Patzak, Günter/Curzon, Gal)


Mahler - Kindertotenlieder (Walter) / Arias and songs by Gluck, Purcell, Handel, Greene, Mendelssohn (G. Moore)

EMI Références

Mahler - Das Lied von der Erde (Walter 1952/Patzak)

Decca Legends

Mahler - Das Lied von der Erde (Schuricht 1948/Svanholm)

Naxos Historical

Schubert in Historical Recordings


Stars of English Oratorio Vol. 1


Stars of English Opera Vol. 2


Stars of English Opera Vol. 3


The World of Kathleen Ferrier Vol. 1


The World of Kathleen Ferrier Vol. 2


Mike Richter’s Opera Page: The Record of Singing Vol. 4



“A beautiful creature” (Gerald Moore)


Kathleen Ferrier’s singing was of great dignity and conviction. She managed  to bring into the studio the same commitment she showed in live performance. Her voice was a true contralto. The tragedy of her illness can color our feeling for her records. I think this is not sentimental at all. It is impossible to hear her in Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder and not to be touched by the human situation (she was already very ill) as well as by her singing.

All her Lieder recordings are treasures. She is superb in English songs and gives to this material the same dignity and honesty she brings to weightier songs. In Brahms’ Vier ernste Gesänge she gives us a deeply felt and entirely moving interpretation.

Kathleen Ferrier was the greatest oratorio singer of the time. If some people find the style too “romantic” by the parameters of what is today considered “correct period style” in oratorio music, so I think, the worse for that style. Oratorio has to be performed by singers who are able to sing with inner emotion and conviction, qualities I cannot find in most of the singers of today.

Bruno Walter said that Kathleen Ferrier was a woman of good humour and that she should be remembered “in a major key.” The recording presented here is one of her most deeply felt and incomparable achievements in the field of German song.

 Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer (Brahms / Broadcast Edinburgh 1949 / Bruno Walter, live)




My warmest thanks to Anthony Shuttleworth