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Letters and Diaries of Kathleen Ferrier


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In 1953, at the age of 41, Kathleen Ferrier, England's greatest lyric contralto, lost her courageous battle with breast cancer. Her huge appeal to a wide audience - in concerts, on records, on the radio and in the opera house - has ensured her name endures to this day, despite a career which lasted barely ten years. In just half that time, this former telephone exchange operator was singing on stage at Covent Garden, before royalty at private parties, and at New York's Carnegie Hall.
This collection of letters and twelve years of her personal diaries was first published by Boydell Press in 2003. Here, an enlarged paperback edition contains a new chapter revealing her growing importance to the BBC, an additional 90 letters, together with much revised material and a selection of moving tributes.
Published to mark the centenary of her birth in 1912, the book, of more than 400 letters, provides a vivid picture of a life which illuminated the war and post-war years of austerity and hardship.
Kathleen Ferrier was surely fun to know. Her personality was a mix of extreme modesty and self-determined ambition, topped with a mischievously blunt sense of earthy Lancastrian humour. She is known for her glorious voice, but through the pages of these fascinating letters and diaries we get to meet the real person.

DR CHRISTOPHER FIFIELD is a conductor, music historian, lecturer and broadcaster. He is the biographer of Max Bruch [Boydell Press 2005] and conductor Hans Richter, and the author of a history of the music agents Ibbs & Tillett.


It is this treasury of information that makes this book such a valuable piece of scholarship. [...] a remarkable portrait of the life and times, the moods and concerns, the fun and the pain of Kathleen Ferrier. [...] Christopher Fifield [...] has written what may be regarded as an ideal model of this kind of book. [...] I strongly recommend this book. MUSIC.WEB.INTERNATIONAL [John France]

[The] letters and diaries [...] are wonderfully colourful; they are funny and down-to-earth, informative and detailed. Her courage, to the very end, never faltered. THE LANCASHIRE MAGAZINE

Christopher Fifield edits the domestic and professional material with informed sensitivity, discretely offering clarifications or context when necessary. There will be few better - or truer - tributes to this still much-missed singer. CLASSICAL MUSIC [Editor's Choice]

Fifty years on, a voice that still touches the heart. GRAMOPHONE

A vivid self-portrait of a brave, secure woman in love with life and music, whose joie de vivre was palpable and supported both by a notable lack of inflated egoism and a singular sense of humour which rarely faltered, even toward the end. Anyone interested in Kathleen Ferrier's life and art, and the milieu of the Second World War years and their aftermath by which they were embraced, will find this welcome book required reading. It is above all, and despite the final descent, a celebration of living. JOHN TALBOT, BRITISH MUSIC SOCIETY NEWSLETTER

On closing [this book] with a terrible sadness, I'm a fan too... The secret is her voice - the plain-speaking tone of a Lancashire lass who was also an aesthete, a joker and an exemplary friend. These letters...chronicle everything, from whom she knocked around with - Britten, Pears, Barbirolli, Danny Kaye, Rex Harrison - to what she sang and what she greedily ate. FINANCIAL TIMES [Michael Church]

Delightful letters and diaries. DAILY TELEGRAPH [Rupert Christiansen]
Editing and presentation are as fine as anyone could wish and Fifield's introductions to each chapter could not be better written. CLASSIC FM [Best Buy,5 Stars]


First Published: 20 Oct 2011
13 Digit ISBN: 9781843830917
17 black and white, 4 line drawing illustrations
Pages: 514
Size: 23.4 x 15.6
Binding: Paperback
Imprint: Boydell Press
BIC Class: AV

Details updated on 05 Oct 2015


  • 1  Introduction
  • 2  Letters 1940-1947
  • 3  Letters 1948
  • 4  Letters 1949
  • 5  Letters 1950
  • 6  Letters 1951
  • 7  Letters 1952
  • 8  Letters 1953
  • 9  Kathleen Ferrier and the BBC: Letters 1941-1953
  • 10  The Diaries: Introduction
  • 11  Diary for 1942
  • 12  Diary for 1943
  • 13  Diary for 1944
  • 14  Diary for 1945
  • 15  Diary for 1946
  • 16  Diary for 1947
  • 17  Diary for 1948
  • 18  Diary for 1949
  • 19  Diary for 1950
  • 20  Diary for 1951
  • 21  Diary for 1952

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