Taking Tea with Clara Butt

Sarah Vernon

Joined June 2010

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Artist's Description

Sheet music, tea tray and piano from The Graphics Fairy. Other sheet music from DigitalCollageImages. The flourish to the left is from Vintage Art Download and the vintage postcard of Clara Butt is in my own collection.

Known as ‘The Voice of the Empire’ or ‘The Voice of the Century’, Dame Clara Butt (1872-1936) was born in Sussex and brought up in Bristol. She became one of the most famous and beloved of English recitalists and concert singers. A ‘booming’ contralto, she was remarkably imposing at 6’ 2".

Dame Clara was not loved by all. Some who considered themselves as superior, serious musicians tended to dismiss her; one famous comment that has passed into folklore came from the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham who is reported to have said, “On a clear day, you could have heard her across the English Channel.”

She was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1920 for her charity concerts during The Great War. However, nothing could have made up for the sadnesses in her middle and later life. She had three sons by her husband, baritone Kennerly Rumford, but the eldest died of meningitis, the youngest by his own hand. The singer was diagnosed with spine cancer in the 1920s, which ultimately contributed to her death in 1936 at the relatively early age of 63.

Winifred Ponder’s biography of Butt, published in 1928 while the contralto was still alive, includes this paragraph: “She stands out head and shoulders from among her contemporaries in personality as she does in stature, and the amazing range and power and beauty of her voice have placed it beyond comparison with all others. That superb voice alone must inevitably have won worldwide fame for her. Yet to Clara Butt her voice is only a means to express something greater than any voice—greater even than music herself—a spiritual force that must have found expression through her by some means even if she had had no voice at all.”

[Research: Encyclopaedia Britannica; Cantabile-subito.de; Wikipedia; MarstonRecords.com]

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