Kathleen Ferrier, "Klever Kaff"
December 3, 2005 8:23 AM   Subscribe

"The extraordinary radiance of the voice. I still remember that. The extraordinary, enveloping, overwhelming beauty of Ferrier's voice."
When Kathleen Ferrier died at 41 in October 1953, she was as famous as the newly crowned Queen. A working class girl from Blackpool who had to quit school at 14 to work as a telephone operator, a young woman who lacked formal musical training and whose husband bet that she would never win a music contest, Ferrier -- under the guidance of the great conductor Bruno Walter -- went on to become an international superstar. An "ordinary diva" who humbly worshipped "Herr Doktor Bruno Walter", gave very few newspaper interviews, never appeared on television or in cinema newsreels. Her speaking voice can be heard only briefly and only twice, on a tape made at a post-concert New York party, and in a short speech she made for the BBC at an Edinburgh Festival. Her extraordinary career lasted only less than 12 years.
Half a century later, although her legacy lives on through her music, Ferrier herself -- "Klever Kaff" -- remains elusive. More inside.
posted by matteo (11 comments total)
.ogg files at Wikipedia

posted by matteo at 8:24 AM on December 3, 2005

"Kathleen Ferrier's performance in Das Lied remains among the deepest and happiest experiences of my musical life. The lovely timbre of her voice moved me as hardly any other sound has. And she had a soul as well as a voice. That soul knew and resounded the very soul of Mahler's work. I have often thought how much it would have meant to him to hear the profound understanding in her performances."
Bruno Walter
posted by matteo at 8:25 AM on December 3, 2005

Of the Messiah, two things linger in my memory. The Recit. “Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened,” in which the miracles were made manifest; and the searing beauty of “He was despised” - for she, too, had known sorrows and was acquainted with grief. The Chausson brings to mind a moment I have described elsewhere how, when lying in her cot not long before the end, she told me, still smiling, of the way she used to try to whileaway the long hours by trying to remember what she always called “me words.” At that moment, she sang me the opening phrase; the body ravaged, the voice divinely shielded. I sometimes wonder, was I the last to hear that wondrous sound.
-- Sir John Barbirolli
posted by matteo at 8:26 AM on December 3, 2005

Personal note: if this post caught your attention and you're unfamiliar with Ferrier, check out Ferrier's performance in Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde (a work completed shortly before Mahler's death, a work that he had begun to compose in the summer of 1907 right after his beloved elder daughter had died). Listen to Ferrier sing,
"Everywhere that dear earth blossoms forth in spring
and grows green again
Everywhere and forever,
distant horizons gleam blue;
and you'll understand why, once, during rehearsals, the orchestra had to stop playing while Ferrier was singing -- too many musicians had started to cry.
posted by matteo at 8:32 AM on December 3, 2005

this post is for L.
posted by matteo at 8:37 AM on December 3, 2005

> too many musicians had started to cry.

Not that Mahler exactly discourages that sort of thing. As a test for anyone feeling flint-hearted, there's a Ferrier/Walter/Vienna Phil Kindertotenlieder floating around out there, either online or will be eventually.
posted by jfuller at 9:12 AM on December 3, 2005

what a beautiful sad voice she had--thanks matteo
posted by amberglow at 9:14 AM on December 3, 2005

Awesome, enlightening post. Thank you.
posted by Haruspex at 9:32 AM on December 3, 2005

My grandmother, who's just turned 87 this last October, was a music teacher for the Cedar Rapids, Iowa school district for 50 years. She's now living in assisted care, and is getting over hip replacement surgery. With all of that, and arthritis to boot, she still sits down at the piano in the lobby and plays out some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard.

Thanks, matteo, I've now figured out the perfect gift for her for Christmas. I picked up "Letters and Diaries of Kathleen Ferrier" as well as a deal Amazon had running for both the Mahler performance you mentioned as well as a compilation CD.
posted by thanotopsis at 10:04 AM on December 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

Du Bist die Ruh sung by Ferrier melts my heart :)
posted by naxosaxur at 11:29 AM on December 3, 2005

jfuller: Gustav Mahler: Songs and Symphonies of Life and Death is very good

thanotopsis: thanks.
Mahler's Second conducted by Klemperer is a shining example of Ferrier's talent. Tower Records often has it, online it's a bit more difficult to find. eBay helps, though.
and please hug your grandmother for me.

naxosaxur: Du Bist die Ruh
posted by matteo at 1:33 PM on December 3, 2005

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