‘Softly Awakes My Heart’ by Michael Letchford


celebrating the majestic career of Louise Kirkby Lunn (includes FREE CD)

SKU: 978-0-9564796-2-4 Category:


Louise Kirkby Lunn (1872-1930), the leading British contralto of her time, both on the opera stage and on the concert platform, enjoyed a forty-year career. She was a leading contralto at Covent Garden from 1902 until 1922 and made many visits to America, singing the role of Kundry in the Henry Savage Parsifal tour (1904-5) and performing regularly at the New York ‘Met’ and Carnegie Hall. On the opera stage among her colleagues can be counted many of the international stars of the time, including Caruso, Destinn, Martinelli, Melba, Plançon, Renaud, Scotti, Ternina and Van Rooy. In the opera house she sang under Mahler, Nikisch and Richter. She was first to sing the role of Dalila in a staged performance in the UK of Saint-SaënsSamson et Dalila, one of her greatest triumphs. As a concert singer, she was greatly admired by Sir Henry Wood and Sir Edward Elgar and took part in the first performances of works by Coleridge-Taylor, Stanford and others. As a recitalist, she performed a wide range of music and supported many of the composers of her time. Her tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1912-13 was perhaps the most successful ever yet made by an English singer. This book celebrates a remarkable career of an outstanding singer whose achievements have perhaps been overlooked.

The book follows the course of Kirkby Lunn’s career featuring contemporary reviews and many illustrations. The book also includes a chronology, an appreciation by Tully Potter, a new discography by David Mason and a CD featuring opera recordings by Kirkby Lunn, transferred by Norman White.


Track 5 – Saint-Saëns: Samson et Dalila – Printemps qui commence  (rec. 1911)



Track 15 – Mozart: La clemenza di Tito – Non più di fiori  (rec. 1911)

Additional information





Country of Publication

United Kingdom

Year of Publication


6 reviews for ‘Softly Awakes My Heart’ by Michael Letchford

  1. admin-smh

    ‘Michael Letchford has made something of a speciality of writing about singers whose careers have not hitherto been examined in detail. Hot on the heels of his book on the celebrated English tenor Walter Widdop, the author now focuses on another major English singer almost forgotten save by the specialist collector of early vocal recordings. Louise Kirkby Lunn shared the operatic stage on equal terms with the likes of Enrico Caruso, Ernest van Dyck, Antonio Scotti, Pol Plançon, Eduard de Reszke, Milka Ternina and Olive Fremstad. Letchford’s book delivers exactly what it promises concentrating on Kirkby Lunn’s career rather than attempting a full ‘life and times’ biography. The detailed account of her career including performances in the USA, Australia and New Zealand is followed by a full chronology and a discography compiled by David Mason. The accompanying CD contains 18 of her operatic recordings. There are no duds among the 18 tracks; my own favourite is O don fatale from Don Carlo, in which Kirkby Lunn’s forceful attack makes Princess Eboli a woman on a mission. An excellent survey of these recordings by Tully Potter concludes with an apt summation of Kirkby Lunn’s career; ‘she was one of England’s greatest singers with a voice that can still thrill with its richness and colour’.‘
    Stanley Henig, Opera Magazine, October 2017 issue

  2. admin-smh

    ‘Michael Letchford’s previous books on singers of the past have been distinguished by exceptional quality in terms of biographical and musical research, printing and presentation and accompanied by a CD of some of the artist’s famous recordings. This latest book is no exception, maintaining the quality for which this author is well-known… the book is illustrated with some rare photographs and posters, setting a standard which will be difficult to match and impossible to improve upon. This book is most enthusiastically recommended.’
    Robert Matthew-Walker, Musical Opinion Quarterly July-September 2017 issue no. 1512

  3. admin-smh

    ‘As Sir Henry Wood is quoted in the book as saying “Kirkby Lunn was a singer of whom England may be justly proud – a singer with a glorious voice and an even tone throughout a compass of well over two octaves.” She should be better known and appreciated. This book and it accompanying CD go far along the road to achieving that. Recommended.’
    John Banks, The Record Collector

  4. admin-smh

    ‘This is a useful and interesting addition to the fairly scant library of books devoted to British singers of the past. It is well written and full of information.’
    MusicWeb International

  5. admin-smh

    Louise Kirkby Lunn review:
    ‘…a singer of whom England may justly proud – a singer with a glorious voice and an even tone throughout a compass of well over two octaves, a singer whom I have never found at fault in so much as a quaver all the years I worked with her, and who never sang out of tune – Kirkby Lunn. Her Brangäne in German at Covent Garden, her fine acting and singing as Kundry in America, and a marvellous rendering of Isolde’s Liebestod at a symphony concert in Queen’s Hall are among my must cherished memories of her. As I say, a singer of whom we may well be proud’.
    Henry Wood in 1938 (My Life in Music)

  6. admin-smh

    Louise Kirkby Lunn review:
    ‘Mme Kirkby Lunn doubled the parts of Waltraute and Fricka and in the former once more proved herself a singer of real power and exceptional intelligence.’
    St James’s Gazette, the review of Wagner: Die Walküre performed at London Covent Garden on 5th May 1902

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