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Clara Butt (1873 - 1936)


Clara Butt’s father was at various times a naval captain and an oyster-dredger; but it was from her mother that she inherited her voice. She initially trained as a soprano with a Miss Brooks, but after hearing the famous American contralto Belle Cole at the Colston Hall, Bristol, Butt decided she, too, was a contralto and retrained with Cole in mind as her vocal model. The singing teacher Daniel Rootham, who also trained Dame Eva Turner and was the organist of St Peter’s Church, Bristol and conductor of the Bristol Festival Choir, taught her for several years and gave her the opportunity to sing in his choir. Here she was able to study through first-hand experience the singing of major contemporary musicians such as Lilian Nordica and Sir George Henschel.

In 1890 Butt won a scholarship to study with Henry Blower at the Royal College of Music. While still a student she made her début at the Royal Albert Hall in Sullivan’s The Golden Legend with Emma Albani, Ben Davies and George Henschel on 7 December 1892. Three days later she sang the title rôle in a college performance of Gluck’s Orfeo at the Lyceum Theatre, conducted by Sir Charles Stanford. The Prince of Wales commanded a repeat performance for March of the following year, through which Butt met Queen Victoria, who took an immediate interest in her. During the summer of 1893 the college arranged for her to study in Paris with Henri Louis Duvernoy, her living expenses being paid for by the Queen.

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