I heard a performance of the Messiah today, and I decided to put up Kathleen Ferrier singing two arias from it.  I also came upon a lovely recording by Ferrier and Isobel Baillie, a lyric soprano who sang a lot of oratorio, and I included that too.  And I couldn’t resist including Aksel Schiøtz.

Händel was born Georg Friedrich Händel in Halle, Brandenberg.  He trained in Brandenberg, Hamburg, and Italy before moving to London.  He recognized the change in what the London public demanded, from Italian operas sung by Italians in Italians to oratorios in English.  Händel composed the Messiah within 23 days in 1741.  The text of the Messiah is unusual in several aspects.  Its text focuses not on a heroic subject but rather on the salvation relationship between God and humanity.  None of the soloists assume the role of a specific character; there is no dramatic plot.  Instead, knowledge of the plot is assumed to be understood by the listener.  The texts draw on allegorical passages of the King James Bible, and, notably from the Book of Common Prayer.

Kathleen Ferrier

Kathleen Ferrier was (and still is) one of the world’s great singers. Her appeal transcends all ages and seemingly all generations, more so perhaps than any other singer. She died more than fifty years ago, yet she is still remembered and her voice is still heard and loved by millions around the world.

Kathleen Mary Ferrier was born on April 22, 1912 at Higher Walton, a village near Preston in Lancashire in the North of England. She died in London on October 8, 1953. During her short career she went from one triumph to another, received the adulation of her peers, of critics and of audiences all over the world and still maintained her natural charm, nobility, humility, humor and love for truth, people and life.

Kathleen’s father was the village schoolmaster at Higher Walton. A good singer himself, he taught most of the music at the school. He later became a headmaster in Blackburn and the family moved there when Kathleen was two years old.

Kathleen did not begin her career as a singer. She was a keen member of the school choir but even then she had a big voice and she was usually asked just to stand at the back and sing quietly. Her mother, keen to encourage Kathleen’s musical interest, arranged piano lessons for her and, as a talented young pianist of only 14 she passed the final grade of the Associated Board of the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music. A newspaper of the time called this ‘an unprecedented success for so youthful a student.

Kathleen left school at 14 and went to work for the GPO in Blackburn, first in the telegrams department and then as a switchboard operator.

In July 1930, at the age of 18, Kathleen took part in her first concert as a pianist, which was broadcast from Manchester, and she began to accompany many local singers in a musical scene which was very active in Lancashire. She regularly entered and won all the major music festivals, but had become interesting in singing and began taking some rudimentary lessons from the singers she accompanied.

By the time Kathleen was 23 she was married and living in Silloth, on the Cumbrian coast, where her husband was the local bank manager. Kathleen gave piano lessons to the local children. When she entered the prestigious Carlisle Festival in 1937 as a pianist, her husband bet her a shilling that she dare not enter for the singing contest as well as the piano prize. Never one to refuse a dare Kathleen accepted the challenge, entered the contralto solo class and not only carried off both trophies, but won the first prize for the best singer at the Festival. Carlisle was a turning point, and this brilliant new singer was in great demand. In 1939, she made her first radio broadcast as a singer.

In 1942 Kathleen sang for the great English conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent who told her that she had a great future, but that to further her career she must live in London. With the help of her sister, Winifred, the decision was made and they moved into a flat in Hampstead. Kathleen began lessons with the baritone singer Professor Roy Henderson who helped to improve Kathleen’s voice dramatically.

Kathleen’s career began to take off. She made records and became well known on the concert platform and in all the great oratorio works, particularly the Messiah and Elgar’s masterpiece The Dream of Gerontius. The composer Benjamin Britten wrote his second opera, The Rape of Lucretia, with Kathleen in mind for the title role.

Kathleen sang for the first time in New York in 1948, to great acclaim, and then began tours of America, Canada, Holland, Scandinavia and America again. The problems of traveling abroad were almost as bad as traveling at home. Stars in those days did not have the entourages they have now, and Kathleen was mostly on her own, coping with indifferent and sometimes non-existent hotel arrangements.

During 1951 Kathleen had an operation to remove a malignant breast tumor. This seemed to be successful and she resumed her career after a spell in hospital. She toured again, at home and abroad and was one half of many brilliant collaborations – with Roy Henderson, Benjamin Britten, Sir John Barbirolli and the great German conductor Bruno Walter, with whom she was instrumental in bringing the work of the composer Gustav Mahler to a much wider audience. Throughout 1952 she was dogged by problems of movement and it was found that further treatment was necessary. Determined as ever, she fulfilled as many of her commitments as she could between regular hospital visits. Eventually though, she was unable to meet the travel demands. She and Barbirolli were working on an English version of Orfeo and it was as much as she could do to keep up with this. Despite a further operation her condition continued to deteriorate and she was re-admitted to hospital where she died on October 8, 1953.

Kathleen Ferrier’s life was not a tragic one, even despite its brevity. She was forty-one years old when she died. In the ten years or so of fame which were granted to her, she achieved more than most singers achieve in a lifetime. In tribute, Bruno Walter said that the greatest privileges in his life were to have known and worked with Kathleen Ferrier and Gustav Mahler – in that order.

-From www.kathleenferrier.org.uk

Isobel Baillie
Born: March 9, 1895 – Hawick, Roxburghshire, Scotland, UK
Died: September 24, 1983 – Manchester, England, UK

The esteemed Scottish soprano, Isobel (Isabella) Baillie, was the youngest child of a master baker and his wife. She was a typical “Scottish lass,” with red hair and a fair complexion. Showing early musical talent, she had singing lessons from the age of nine and won a scholarship to the High School in Manchester, where her family had settled. In Manchester she was a pupil of Sadler Fogg.

Isobel Baillie gave her first performance of the Messiah at the age of 15. In 1917 she made a wartime marriage to Henry Leonard Wrigley; the couple had one daughter. In 1921 she was invited to appear with Manchester’s Hallé Orchestra, and she made her first, highly successful, London appearance in 1923. During 1925-1926 Isobel studied with Guglielmo Somma in Milan. Thereafter she made numerous appearances as an oratorio and Lieder artist in England.

Isobel Baillie, who was praised for the purity and clarity of her tone, was now well established as a singer of the Messiah (she is reputed to have performed this work over 1,000 times) and of other choral works, notably Haydn’s Creation, Felix Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and Johannes Brahms’s German Requiem. In 1933 she became the first British performer to sing in the Hollywood Bowl in California. ‘The Nightingale’ of the Halle was chosen by Arturo Toscanini for J. Brahms’s Requiem. Although she did not regard herself as an operatic singer, her performances of Gluck’s Orpheus and Charles Gounod’s Faust were very popular. She was also noted for her renderings of British music, including Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music (of which she was one of the original singers), Edward Elgar’s The Kingdom, and Herbert Howells’s Hymnus Paradisi.

Baillie taught at the Royal College of Music in London (1955-1957, 1961-1964), Cornell University in Ithaca, New York (1960-1961), and the Manchester School of Music (from 1970). She continued to give lectures and recitals until her retirement.

In 1951, Baillie was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire; in 1978 she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Her autobiography was aptly titled Never Sing Louder Than Lovely (London, 1982).

-Taken from http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Bio/Baillie-Isobel.htm

Aksel Schiøtz

Aksel Schiøtz (September 1, 1906 – April 19, 1975) was a Danish tenor and later baritone, who was considered one of Europe’s leading lieder singers of the post-World War II period.

Schiøtz was born in Roskilde, Denmark, but grew up in Hellerup near Copenhagen. He studied singing with John Forsell. Having obtained an M.A. in Danish and English in 1930, he taught at various schools in Roskilde and Copenhagen until 1938, when he gave up teaching. In October 1936, he gave his first lieder recital, and he made his opera début at the Royal Danish Theatre, Copenhagen, in Mozart’s Così fan tutte in 1939. In 1940, he made a legendary recording of the tenor aria from Handel’s Messiah.

In 1946, he underwent operation for tumor acousticus(a noncancerous and usually slow-growing tumor that develops on the main (vestibular) nerve leading from the inner ear to the brain).In “Our Schubert”, David Schroeder writes that the surgery “should have put an end to his career in 1945, since it left him paralyzed on one side of his face and neck; but with the encouragement of friends and loved ones he relearned how to sing, becoming a baritone instead of a tenor.” His wife Gerd particularly motivated him.

At the Glyndebourne Festival in 1946, he alternated with Peter Pears in the part of ‘Male Chorus’ in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia. More than as an opera singer, however, Schiøtz is remembered for his interpretation of Danish songs and Schubert’s and Schumann’s lieder, as well as songs by Carl Michael Bellman. During the Nazi occupation of Denmark (1940–1945), he achieved great popularity for his recording of traditional Danish songs of the 19th and early 20th centuries. During the occupation there was a strong rise in Danish nationalism. Aksel Schiøtz’s lyrical and sensitive interpretation of Danish songs and his perfect command of the Danish language resulted in an everlasting gift to the Danish people.

From 1955 to 1958 he served as professor of music at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, later in Toronto by invitation of Boyd Neel, and finally at the University of Colorado, Boulder. From 1968 he was professor in Copenhagen. After retiring, he wrote The Singer and His Art (Hamish Hamilton, 1971).

Schiøtz died in Copenhagen in 1975, aged 68.

-From Wikipedia