This year the British Royal Mail is commemorating the contralto Kathleen Ferrier with a postage stamp in her honor. Her early career began in piano competitions, while serving as a telephone operator, at one time auditioning for the voice of British Telecom’s “speaking clock,” before appearing professionally in a production of Handel’s Messiah.
She would later work closely with conductor Bruno Walter, particularly interpreting lieder by Brahms and Mahler.
With Benjamin Britten she would broaden her repertoire to include traditional folk music in concert recitals.
After her death at forty-one of cancer, her hauntingly unaccompanied version of the Northumbrian folksong Blow the Wind Southerly and What is Life?, from Gluck’s Orfeo and Euridice, continued to be very popular on BBC.
I include O Waly, Waly, a traditional folksong that has also been interpreted by Ewan McColl and The Pogues.