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.