Kathleen Ferrier's Story: 'My husband bet me a shilling'      <Back

The centenary of Kathleen Ferrier’s birth fell on 22 April 2012. She was born in Higher Walton, a village between Preston and Blackburn. The family moved to Blackburn in the following year,and it was there that she was taught piano by Frances Walker, a significant teacher. She sang in local concerts from the age of 19 but nothing significant occurred until 1937,when she competed in the Carlisle Festival,aged 25. Her husband Albert Wilson bet her a shilling that she would not enter. (A shilling is worth 5 pence today.)

Here is Kathleen’s own account, from a 1946 interview in the Preston Guardian, a local newspaper that no longer exists. (There is a cutting in the Ronald Duncan archive.) She told the reporter:

"I had heard some of the singers at the festival", she told me, “and some of them were good and some were bad. I was still toying with the idea when my husband bet me a shilling I wouldn’t do so. That clinched the matter, and I entered, winning first prize and the rose bowl for the best singer in the festival".

One of the songs she sang was Roger Quilter’s setting of Robert Herrick’s poem To Daisies. Ferrier's recording of To Daisies can be heard here

Herrick’s words are here.

It was only after this that she had her first singing lesson, from "a Dr. J. E. Hutchinson, of Newcastle-on-Tyne", as the Preston reporter put it. (Hutchinson was actually a well-known teacher.) Fortunately, he was able to get to Carlisle to teach her – this was not too far from the seaside village of Silloth, where she lived with her husband until their marriage broke up. 

Source: Newspaper cutting headed Career Won by Shilling Wager. See the original here (jpg)

Kethleen Ferrier's first broadcast for the BBC was from Newcastle in February 1939. 

During the war she worked extensively for CEMA – the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts – and was taught by the baritone Roy Henderson, whom she met in 1942 when they performed together. (He lived to be 100.) 

He was a professor at the Royal Academy of Music, and over the next seven years widened her repertoire to include Bach, Handel and Brahms. He sent her to Hans Oppenheim to prepare lieder recitals with Bruno Walter. 

It was to Oppenheim that she turned on 7 June 1946 for coaching in The Rape of Lucretia

It was just over seven weeks since the audition with Britten and Duncan, and in the intervening days the opera had been completed. Joan Cross – who was the Female Chorus at Glyndebourne – said that the last pages of Lucretia were handed over to the cast "at a very late stage of rehearsal". (See “Joan Cross” in Alan Blyth (ed.), Remembering Britten [London: Hutchinson, 1981, 73]).

Such were the tensions in working with Britten and Duncan.

Author: Dr Alan Munton

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