Obituary: Winifred Radford
Saturday 17 April 1993
WINIFRED RADFORD, the singer and teacher, will long be remembered for her impassioned work as champion of the French melodie in Britain and of song in all its forms.
She was born in 1901, the daughter of the celebrated bass Robert Radford. Her childhood was steeped in music: before the age of eight she heard Patti, Melba and Tetrazzini sing, and sat on Elgar's knee. At 14 she entered the Royal Academy of Music, where she studied ballet, piano, and later, singing. When she was 16, the conductor and composer Sir Hamilton Harty introduced her to Douglas Illingworth, 22 years her senior, a barrister and man of great culture and taste. She married him two years later. Together, they travelled to Leipzig, where she studied singing with Elena Gerhardt. It was there, under the aegis of Gerhardt, that Radford made her concert debut in 1930.
Radford's initial appearance in opera was at the first Glyndebourne Festival in 1934, where she sang the small soprano role of Barbarina in The Marriage of Figaro. In the four subsequent seasons at Glyndebourne her roles included Zerlina in Don Giovanni and Cherubino in Figaro. Soon after, Radford joined Frederick Woodhouse and Geoffrey Dunn in Intimate Opera at the Mercury Theatre and on tour. During the Second World War she also gave frequent recitals of Lieder and French song for the renowned lunch-hour series at the National Gallery.
For many years she travelled widely, giving solo performances of song, poetry and drama in period costume. Eric Blom, in the 1954 Grove, wrote of these recitals: '(They) are by no means mere pretty fancy-dress affairs, but show a great deal of taste and erudition in the choice of material as well as uncommon vocal and histrionic gifts in their presentation.'
In 1949, after 29 years of marriage, and after sadly declining health, Douglas Illingworth died. It was around this time that Radford forged two new relationships that were to enrich the rest of her life. One was with the singer of folk songs Constance Carrodus. Well known to BBC listeners in the 1940s and 1950s for her characterisations and collection of voices, including a male voice, Carrodus joined forces with Radford in a programme entitled City and Countryside. 'The two artists are superbly contrasted,' wrote the Yorkshire Observer. 'Miss Radford brings forward (with elegant period attire) the sophistication of bygone ages, Miss Carrodus delivers, in down-to-earth manner, the personalities and the true atmosphere of the Folk Songs.' The striking and eccentric Constance Carrodus became not only a valued colleague but also the lifelong companion of Winifred Radford.
The other meeting that greatly enhanced Radford's life at this time was with the French baritone Pierre Pernac. Radford met Bernac and Francis Poulenc in 1945, when she sang Poulenc's Fiancailles pour rire at the Wigmore Hall, accompanied by Gerald Moore. Discovering that this was the first performance of the song cycle in Britain, Poulenc and Bernac, who happened to be in London at the time, coached Radford before the recital.
Thus began Radford's close association with Bernac that was to last for over 30 years. She studied with Bernac in Paris whenever her commitments allowed. She established the course in the Interpretation of French Song at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where she continued to teach until 1971. After her retirement, she taught privately, devoting herself to the French song repertoire. She organised the highly successful series of master-classes that Bernac gave in London during the Sixties and Seventies. She also assisted Bernac in the production of his book The Interpretation of French Song (1976), providing English translations of all the song texts discussed. Bernac dedicated the book to her. She translated his second book Francis Poulenc - the man and his songs (1977) as well as Poulenc's Diary of My Songs (1985). After Bernac's death in 1979, Radford founded the Friends of Pierre Bernac, a society devoted to perpetuating his memory.
In 1921 Winifred Radford was immortalised in a portrait of haunting beauty by Meredith Frampton, commissioned by her husband Douglas Illingworth. The portrait remains a fitting tribute to her, embodying all the qualities her friends, colleagues and pupils grew to cherish in her: her quiet resolve, determination and integrity beneath a gracious, radiant charm. She will be remembered by all who knew her with deep affection.
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