Posts Tagged 'women'

Music Monday: The 100,000th!

After just over 8 years on Last.fm, I finally hit my 100,000 scrobble last Friday, and a fine bit of concert magic it is, too.

Music Monday: June roundup

1. The Birthday Massacre (152)
2. Lin-Manuel Miranda (138)
3. Patti Smith (121)

Parallel Lives II: Kathleen Ferrier

Who was she?
The most beloved of all English singers, and deservedly so, Kathleen Ferrier was born in Lancashire in 1912. She originally intended to become a pianist, and although some vocal potential was discovered quite early, she spent the first decades of her adult life as a telephonist, only making her debut as a professional in Newcastle in 1942, having hitherto restricted her singing to the local choral society. From 1944 she tirelessly performed in the Messiah and the St Matthew Passion, leaving hardly a parish church unvisited. She only ever sang in two operatic roles on stage: in the title role of Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia, which was written for her, and in several productions of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice.

The affliction
She toured extensively in Europe and the United States, but before long she was diagnosed as suffering from cancer of the breast. She had many operations, and gave her last performances in February 1953, as Orfeo at Covent Garden with Barbirolli, with whom she had forged a fruitful partnership, as conductor; during Act 2 her hip broke on stage, but she sang to the end of the opera and left the Royal Opera House in an ambulance. She died in October of that year.

Why the cult?
In a short career cut short by her tragic death, Ferrier quickly achieved a huge reputation for the warmth and sincerity of her singing, as well as the overwhelming intrinsic beauty of her voice. It’s said that her singing of the ‘Agnus Dei’ from Bach’s Mass in B minor reduced Karajan to tears – a tall order.

Reputation verdict
Her reputation has never shown the least sign of being eclipsed thanks to the imaginative policy of Decca, the company with which she made all her records. Not long after the war she met Bruno Walter, and he trained her in the great Mahler song cycles, above all in Das Lied von der Erde, which she recorded in Vienna in 1952. Walter is alleged to have said that the two greatest artistic encounters of his life were ‘with Ferrier and Mahler, in that order’. If so, he was being extravagant, but listening to her in almost anything she recorded one sees why he might have said it.

She is one of the most spontaneously appealing of singers, and in quite a wide repertoire. The thing that was clearly out of her range was eroticism, and wisely she steered clear of it, at any rate in her art. There is, I suppose it must be admitted, a certain stateliness about her singing, a slight sense that she was indeed at home in all those Anglican buildings she did the rounds of. Yet the note of passionate regret in her Mahler singing remains unequalled and she has an overflowing sense of fun which comes through most in some of her folksong recordings, though of course the best known is Blow the Wind Southerly, where the velvety quality of her voice is on rich display.

Classic CD magazine, 1997

Parallel Lives I: Jacqueline Du Pré

As a new family memoir pours cold water on the saintly image of the multiple sclerosis-stricken Jacqueline Du Pré, it seems a good time to objectively review the contributions to classical music of the cult performer. Du Pré shared ‘parallel lives’ with three other extremely popular and sometimes wayward musicians – the English singer who succumbed to painful cancer; the American singer who immortalised ‘Ol’ Man River’ but was shunned by his own country which suspected his political beliefs, and the eccentric Canadian pianist who suddenly stopped performing to become a recording recluse. All four carved their own inimitable niches and their recordings live on as poignant reminders of their art. But how have their reputations survived?

Jacqueline Du Pré
Who was she?
Jacqueline Du Pré was born in Oxford in 1945, into a highly musical family. When, as a very young child, she heard the cello for the first time, she insisted that she should learn to play it, and revealed astonishing musical gifts. She studied with the great William Pleeth and made her recital debut at the age of 16 in 1961. She soon became a member of a loose group of musicians who performed chamber music together whenever possible. She and pianist Stephen Bishop (now Kovacevich) had a torrid affair and made a wonderful record during it, but he was replaced in her affections by the extremely upwardly mobile Daniel Barenboim, and they married in Israel in 1967.

The affliction
The already hectic tempo of Jacqueline Du Pré’s life got still faster and no one was surprised that she began showing signs of fatigue at the beginning of the 1970s. In 1973 it turned out, however, that she was suffering from multiple sclerosis, and she soon lost the feeling in her limbs, and had to abandon playing, though she went on teaching. The disease, if the new book is to be believed, had terrible psychological effects too, and Du Pré’s personality, already monstrously egoistic, was soon unmanageable except by her nurse. For the last years of her life she was wholly incapacitated, and she died in 1987.

Why the cult? The music…
She was famous from her first recital at 16, not only because of the passionate intensity of her playing, but because she was such a vital presence. She also quickly made a speciality of Elgar’s Cello Concerto, which she played with an abandon that vanquished any lingering notions that Elgar was a reserved Edwardian – in my view,the piece is ore moving if you take that traditional line, but in the late 1960s Du Pré, abetted on her recording by the heart-on-sleeve Sir John Barbirolli, swept all before her, and that has remained the most famous recording of the work ever since.

…and the woman
The image of the healthy young girl investing her music-making with such wild energy, vigour and passion and then being cut down so cruelly by disease has only heightened the cult value of Jacqueline Du Pré. Documentaries have been made and there was even a play about an instrumentalist cut down by physical illness (Tom Kempinski’s Duet for One was staged with Frances de la Tour in the lead and later filmed with Julie Andrews).

Why is she in the news?
It was never any secret that Du Pré had a private life as passionate as her artistic one, but this month sees the publication of a new book by her brother and sister in which her ruthlessness is revealed – in humid prose which does no one any favours. Eager to dispel any image of saintliness, Du Pré’s brother and sister want to show the Jacqueline they knew and they don’t pull any punches. She is portrayed as a voracious man-eater, on one occasion sleeping with her brother-in-law. When he heard about the book and fearing perhaps that his personal life would be raked over, Du Pré’s husband Daniel Barenboim is said to have asked ‘Why couldn’t they have waited until I have gone?’ The hype is set to continue as the film rights have already been applied for and casting is well underway – Emily Watson, Oscar nominee for her role in last year’s Breaking the Waves is rumoured to play Jacqueline – and another biography by family friend Elizabeth Wilson will soon be published.

Reputation verdict
In her approach to music she was very like her fellow cellist Rostropovich, in that she hugged everything she played in an embrace so intense that it tended to wilt if it wasn’t a robust Romantic growth. In some of the chamber music which she performed with Barenboim and occasionally others, she had to subdue her temperament somewhat. It is always clear, though, that her favourite musical marking was espressivo, which is just what some listeners find winning and what repels those who sometimes like a degree of continence in performances.

Classic CD magazine, 1997

Music Monday: Epic Eurovision interval acts


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