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British Contralto Clara Butt: Land of Hope and Glory (1930)

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Published on Nov 17, 2009

British contralto Clara Butt (1872-1936) / Land of Hope and Glory (Benson/Elgar) / Recorded: June 25, 1930 --

CLARA BUTT (via wikipedia)

Clara Butt was born in Southwick, Sussex. Her father was Henry Albert Butt who was a sea captain and who was born in 1848 in Saint Martin, Jersey, Channel Islands. He married Clara Hook in 1869, who was born in Shoreham, the daughter of Joseph Hook, mariner (1861 and 1871 census, in 1881 in New Shoreham workhouse). In 1880 the family moved to Bristol and Clara was educated at South Bristol High School, where her singing talent was recognised and encouraged. At the request of her headmistress, she was trained by the bass Daniel Rootham and joined the Bristol Festival Chorus, of which he was musical director. In January 1890 she won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music. In her fourth year she spent three months studying in Paris at the expense of Queen Victoria. She also studied in Berlin and Italy.

She made her professional début at the Royal Albert Hall in London in Sir Arthur Sullivans The Golden Legend on December 7, 1892. Three days later she appeared as Orfeo in Glucks Orfeo ed Euridice at the Lyceum Theatre. Bernard Shaw wrote in The World that she far surpassed the utmost expectations that could reasonably be entertained (December 14, 1892). She returned to Paris and made further studies with Jacques Bouhy (the teacher of Louise Homer and Louise Kirkby Lunn) and later with the soprano Etelka Gerster in Berlin. Camille Saint-Saëns wanted her to study Dalila, but due to laws then extant forbidding the representation of biblical subjects on the British stage, nothing came of it.

Soon she had acquired an excellent reputation, aided by her physical presence - she was 6 feet 2 inches tall. She made many gramophone recordings, often accompanied by the (uncredited) pianist Miss Lillian Bryant. She was primarily a concert singer and only ever appeared in two opera productions, both of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice, in 1892 and 1920.

Edward Elgar composed his Sea Pictures for contralto and orchestra with Clara Butt in mind as the soloist, and she sang at the first performance at the Norwich Festival on October 5, 1899, with the composer conducting.

In 1900 she married the baritone Kennerley Rumford, and thenceforth often appeared with him in concerts. The couple eventually had three children, two sons and a daughter. Besides singing in many important festivals and concerts, she was honoured with royal commands from Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, and King George V. She made tours to Australia, Japan, Canada, the United States and to many European cities.

During the First World War she organised and sang in many concerts for service charities, and for this she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 1920 civilian war honours. That year she sang four performances of Gluck's Orphee at Covent Garden under the baton of Sir Thomas Beecham. According to The Times she 'played fast and loose with the time and spoilt the phrasing' and it appears not to have been a success.

Butt's three sisters were also singers. One of them, Ethel Hook, became a famous artist in her own right and made some superb solo recordings.

In later life Clara Butt was dogged by tragedies. Her elder son died of meningitis while still at school, and the younger committed suicide. During the 1920s she became seriously ill of cancer of the spine, but her faith gave her the strength to continue working. She made many of her later records seated in a wheelchair. She died in 1936 at the age of 63 at her home in North Stoke, Oxfordshire, as a result of an accident she suffered in 1931.

Sir Thomas Beecham once said, jokingly, that "on a clear day, you could have heard her across the English Channel". Not all serious musicians admired her booming contralto, which can be mistaken for a man's voice on some recordings, or her rather 'populist' approach to her art. In his autobiography Sir Adrian Boult recounts an anecdote about two young music students going for a bicycle ride one afternoon. After a while they stopped and sat making idle conversation on a piece of grass. One looked at his bicycle and mused 'I am going to call it Santley because it is a Singer'. Charles Santley, a veteran baritone, was the most noted British singer of the day, and Singer was the maker of the bicycle. The other responded 'I am going to call mine Clara Butt because it is not.' He then noticed as they rode home that a rather frosty atmosphere had developed. He realised why, when a short time afterwards he read that his companion, Kennerly Rumford, was engaged to Clara Butt.

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For Maya Mikolajczyk ~ MayaTatyana

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