Emma Kirkby

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Emma Kirkby
Emma Kirkby.jpg
Born Carolyn Emma Kirkby
(1949-02-26) 26 February 1949 (age 66)
Camberley, Surrey, England
Occupation Classical soprano in
Years active 1971–present (1971–present)

Dame (Carolyn) Emma Kirkby, DBE (born 26 February 1949) is an English soprano and one of the world's most renowned early music specialists who has sung on well over a hundred recordings. She was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 2007 Queen's Birthday Honours List.[1] Her entry in The Grove Book of Opera Singers (2008) reads:

Her uncommonly pure, crystalline voice, deployed with minimal vibrato, her natural declamation, agile coloratura and her sensitivity to words have been widely admired by interpreters of early, Renaissance and Baroque music and have served as a model for many specialists in this repertory.[2]

Education and early career[edit]

Emma Kirkby was educated at Hanford School[3] and Sherborne School for Girls in Dorset. Her father was Geoffrey John Kirkby, a Royal Navy Officer.

Originally, Kirkby had no expectations of becoming a professional singer. As a classics student at Somerville College, Oxford and a schoolteacher she sang for pleasure in choirs and small groups, notably Schola Cantorum of Oxford, always feeling at home most in the Renaissance and Baroque repertoires. As her voice was not particularly large, Kirkby's potential as a soloist was not immediately recognised.

Kirkby was a founding member of the Taverner Choir, and in 1973 began her long association with the Consort of Musicke. She took part in the early Decca Florilegium recordings with both the Consort of Musicke and the Academy of Ancient Music, at a time when most college-trained sopranos were not seeking a sound appropriate for early music instruments. She therefore had to find her own approach, with enormous help from Jessica Cash in London, and from the directors, fellow singers and instrumentalists with whom she has worked over the years.

Kirkby has built long term relationships with chamber groups and orchestras, in particular London Baroque, the Freiburger Barockorchester, L’Orfeo (of Linz) and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and now with some of the younger groups – the Palladian Ensemble and Florilegium. She has also been the Patron of Derby Choral Union since 1993. She has taught for many years at Dartington International Summer School, the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, as well as the Bel Canto Summer School. In 2010 she became President of the 180 strong Dartington Community Choir. In 1994, she was awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Music) from the University of Bath.[4]


Kirkby has made well over a hundred recordings, from sequences of Hildegard of Bingen to madrigals of the Italian and English Renaissance, cantatas and oratorios of the Baroque, works of Mozart, Haydn and Johann Christian Bach. Other recordings include: Handel: Opera Arias and Overtures 2 for Hyperion, Johann Sebastian Bach wedding cantatas for Decca, Bach Cantatas 82a and 199 for Carus; and four projects for BIS: with London Baroque, one of Handel motets and one of Christmas music by Scarlatti, Bach and others; with the Royal Academy Baroque Orchestra the first recording of the newly rediscovered Gloria by Handel; and with the Romantic Chamber Group of London, Chanson d'amour, an album of songs by the American composer Amy Beach, who died in 1944.

In the 2000s: an anthology, Classical Kirkby, devised and performed with Anthony Rooley, on the BIS label, 2002; Cantatas by Cataldo Amodei, also for BIS, 2004; with Fretwork, consort songs by William Byrd, for Harmonia Mundi USA, 2005.; Scarlatti Stabat Mater with Daniel Taylor, for ATMA, 2006; Honey from the Hive, songs of John Dowland, with Anthony Rooley, for BIS, 2006: and Musique and Sweet Poetrie, also for BIS, 2007; lute songs from Europe with Jakob Lindberg.

In 1999 Kirkby was voted 'Artist of the Year' by Classic FM Radio listeners and in November 2000 she received the Order of the British Empire. BBC Music Magazine in April 2007 published a survey of critics to nominate “The 20 greatest sopranos”, controversially[citation needed] placing Kirkby at number 10.[5]

Despite all her recording activity, Kirkby prefers live concerts, especially the pleasure of performing favourite programmes with colleagues.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

From 1971 to 1983 she was married to the conductor Andrew Parrott.[citation needed]

She was later in a long-term relationship with lutenist Anthony Rooley, with whom she has a son.[citation needed]

On 21 January 2011 it was announced that Kirkby had been awarded the Queen's Medal for Music,[6] an award funded by the Privy Purse and given to an individual who has had a major influence on the musical life of the nation.[7]


  1. ^ Rushdie and Eavis lead honours, BBC News, 15 June 2007
  2. ^ Nicholas Anderson, "Kirkby, Dame (Carolyn) Emma", in Laura Macy (ed.), The Grove Book of Opera Singers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 250.
  3. ^ "Hanford School". The Good Schools Guide. Retrieved 5 May 2011. 
  4. ^ "Honorary Graduates 1989 to present". bath.ac.uk. University of Bath. Retrieved 18 February 2012. 
  5. ^ Are these the 20 best sopranos of the recorded era?, Guardian, 14 March 2007
  6. ^ The Queen’s Medal For Music 2010, 21 January 2011, Buckingham Palace, 21 January 2011
  7. ^ The Queen's Medal for Music, 21 January 2011, Buckingham Palace, 21 January 2011

External links[edit]