Roy Henderson (baritone)

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Roy Galbraith Henderson CBE (4 July 1899 – 16 March 2000) was a leading English baritone in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. He later became a teacher of singing, his most notable student being Kathleen Ferrier.

Early life and influences[edit]

Born in Edinburgh, (Scotland),[1] Henderson moved to Nottingham, (England), at an early age when his Scottish father, a prominent Congregational minister, was appointed to a church there and later became Principal of Paton Congregational College in the city. He was educated at Nottingham High School, where he became captain of cricket. He sang in his father's church choir (his first solo was as First Malefactor in Stainer's The Crucifixion), and in school concerts, but was mainly active in sports. Henderson served in the First World War in the Artists Rifles. In the regimental concert party were other well-known baritones, including Charles James Mott, Percy Heming and Clay Thomas.[2] Henderson was deeply impressed by Mott, who was later killed in the war.[3]

Musical studies and early career[edit]

Henderson began study at the Royal Academy of Music in 1920, on the advice of the bass Robert Radford. He studied hard under Thomas Meux (singing) and John Blackwood McEwen (composition). He sang in Messiah once, in 1923, and vowed never to do so again. He made his first broadcast for the BBC (the first of very many) in 1924. In 1925, while he was still studying, he had the wonderful opportunity to sing in Delius's A Mass of Life at the Queen's Hall for the Royal Philharmonic Society, and was able to prepare the work and sing it from memory with the greatest success, within three weeks. The performance, on 2 April, was with Miriam Licette, Astra Desmond and Walter Widdop, conducted by Paul von Klenau. He was awarded the Worshipful Company of Musicians' medal as most distinguished student of the year, and so his name as a professional singer was immediately made. He was married in 1926.

Distinction in opera and British music[edit]

Henderson's 1929 record of Sea Drift.

He then began to obtain many engagements both in opera and in oratorio. He had seasons at Covent Garden, including Wagner roles, in 1928 and 1929. In 1929 at the Delius Festival under Sir Thomas Beecham, Henderson distinguished himself and was acclaimed by Delius as the unequalled interpreter of Zarathustra in A Mass of Life.[4][5] His performances of Delius's Sea Drift (a part created by Frederic Austin) were also considered masterly. Beecham had recorded this work with the baritone Dennis Noble in 1928, but this was not issued owing to unsatisfactory acoustics. In 1929 the Decca record company was established by (Sir) Edward Lewis, and in May 1929 Henderson was recruited to record the work as one of Decca's first issues.[6] There is also a recording of Songs of Sunset from the 1934 Leeds Festival under Beecham.

He also became very distinguished in works by Ralph Vaughan Williams, including A Sea Symphony, Dona Nobis Pacem, Sancta Civitas and Five Tudor Portraits; in those of Edward Elgar, especially The Dream of Gerontius, The Kingdom, and The Apostles; in Bach's St Matthew Passion and St John Passion; and in Mendelssohn's Elijah. He took part in first performances of many British works, including composers Vaughan Williams, Dyson, Cyril Scott, E. J. Moeran, Arthur Bliss and Patrick Hadley. He gave the first performance of Bliss' Serenade for Orchestra and Voice, under Malcolm Sargent, at the Queen's Hall during the first Courtauld-Sargent series, 1929-1930.[7] He gave the premiere of Delius's Idyll: Once I walked through a populous city[8] at the Queen's Hall Promenade Concerts in October 1933 with Dora Labette, under Sir Henry Wood. For the Royal Philharmonic Society he performed Moeran's Nocturne (for baritone, chorus and orchestra) under Adrian Boult in 1936,[9] and Dona Nobis Pacem and the Sea Symphony (with Isobel Baillie) under Ralph Vaughan Williams at the composer's 70th birthday concert in November 1942.[10]

From 1930 to 1937, he was chorus master of the Nottingham Harmonic Society under Sir Hamilton Harty, from whom he learned many lasting lessons. He also conducted the Huddersfield Glee and Madrigal Society, the Bournemouth Municipal Choir and the Nottingham Oriana Choir, one of the very few which sang only from memory. Over these years, he was also attempting to fulfil very many singing engagements at major concerts and festivals, and teaching in both London and Nottingham, and in the flush of his early success, he became over-extended in his work. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music in around 1932.

In 1934, he took part with Kate Winter, Linda Seymour and Parry Jones in the recording of Stravinsky's Les noces, under the composer's direction [11]

In 1936 he was the baritone soloist in the premiere performance (and the first of very few in the composer's lifetime) of Constant Lambert's Summer's Last Will and Testament, under Lambert's direction.[12]

Glyndebourne and Mozart[edit]

He did not return to opera until 1934, when he participated in the first ventures at Glyndebourne. He sang on the opening night and appeared in every season until 1939, also singing on the last night before the outbreak of war in 1939. He sang the role of the Count in The Marriage of Figaro, Masetto in Don Giovanni, Guglielmo in Così fan tutte, and Papageno in The Magic Flute, under the direction of Fritz Busch, who commended him highly. He also took the role of Peachum in The Beggar's Opera. His Count is preserved in the Busch (Glyndebourne 1936) HMV recording of The Marriage of Figaro.[13] His Masetto is in the Busch (Glyndebourne, c.1937-8) Don Giovanni.[14] For these years, Glyndebourne became his artistic home.[15] Henderson was an outstanding Mozart singer.

He recorded the first complete Purcell Dido and Aeneas with Nancy Evans and the Boyd Neel ensemble conducted by Clarence Raybould before 1936.[16] In 1938, Henderson was one of the original 16 soloists in Vaughan Williams's Serenade to Music (his is the solo line to the words ‘Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds’). In March 1940, he was involved in the Glyndebourne Company revival of The Beggar's Opera, directed by John Gielgud, at the Haymarket Theatre in London.

In his later career, he specialized more in recitals, and delivered a fine collection of English songs at the first Edinburgh Festival in 1947.

Kathleen Ferrier[edit]

Henderson became a Professor at the Royal Academy of Music in 1940. He first met Kathleen Ferrier when both sang in a performance of Elijah at Runcorn on 23 December 1942.[17] A few weeks later, she came to him at the Royal Academy asking for lessons. (Dr Hutchinson of Newcastle upon Tyne had previously taught her.) Their relationship as pupil and teacher lasted for seven years. He began her coaching in Bach, Handel and Brahms, and steered her away from Verdi. He prepared her for her first The Dream of Gerontius in Leeds in November 1944 (insisting that she sing it from memory), and in that year they had also studied the Four Serious Songs of Brahms. He sent her to Professor Carl Ebert (producer of the pre-war Glyndebourne Mozart), on his return to Glyndebourne after the war, and to Hans Oppenheim when she was preparing lieder recitals with Bruno Walter. Walter thoroughly introduced her to the work of Mahler. Henderson is the conductor of the recording of the Pergolesi Stabat Mater with Ferrier and Joan Taylor, the Nottingham Oriana Choir and the Boyd Neel String Orchestra (Decca AK 1517-1521). He wrote an account of his teaching of Kathleen Ferrier in the memoir edited by Neville Cardus. He was also the teacher of Hervey Alan, Jennifer Vyvyan, Norma Procter and Rae Woodland.

Henderson retired from the stage in 1952, and devoted nearly all of his time to teaching and writing music.

In 1991, he made a BBC Radio 4 broadcast in conversation with Richard Baker and Sir Keith Falkner. In July 1999 he celebrated his 100th birthday. An album was released for the occasion, entitled Roy Henderson: A Centenary Recital. He died eight months later, in March 2000, in Bromley, Kent.


  1. ^ Roy Henderson, 100, Scottish Baritone and Teacher
  2. ^ Comparing notes, BBC Interview with Richard Baker 1991.
  3. ^ A connected account is given by D. Brook, Singers of To-day, Second (Revised) edition (Rockliff, London 1958), p. 110-117.
  4. ^ This performance was with Miriam Licette, Astra Desmond and Tudor Davies, the Philharmonic Choir and BBC Symphony Orchestra, see R. Elkin, Queen's Hall, 1893-1941 (Rider & Co, London 1944), 79.
  5. ^ The Delius Society Journal no. 92, Winter 1986-87, carried an extensive interview with Henderson about his Delius work and a review of his Delian recordings, Read here.
  6. ^ 6 sides, Decca S10010-10012. See Darrell 1936, p. 130. Probably conducted by Julian Clifford (junior), see Frederick Delius srticle.
  7. ^ R. Elkin, Queen's Hall (cited above), 83.
  8. ^ Fenby 1936, 121. Composed with Fenby during 1933, on Walt Whitman texts compiled by Robert Nichols, from the prelude to his unpublished opera Margot-la-Rouge.
  9. ^ Elkin 1946, 171.
  10. ^ Elkin 1946, 181.
  11. ^ J. Batten, Joe Batten's Book (Rockliff, London 1956), 85-6; Darrell 1936, 463; Columbia Records LX 816-818.
  12. ^ Music Web International
  13. ^ Originally 78 rpm, Mozart Opera Society, 3 vols. (22 records) with Audrey Mildmay, Aulikki Rautawaara, Luise Helletsgruber, Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender, Norman Allin, Heddle Nash, etc; cf Darrell 1936, 328: reissued on LP for MFP.
  14. ^ Originally 78 rpm for the Mozart Opera Society with John Brownlee, Ina Souez, Koloman von Pataky, Audrey Mildmay, etc; reissued on LP by American Victor Records before 1953, and in UK as ALP 1199-1201 by 1955, see E. Sackville-West and D. Shawe-Taylor, The Record Year 2 (Collins, London 1953), 204, and E.M.I. Ltd. (Record Division), A Complete List of HMV, Columbia, Parlophone and MGM LP Records issued up to and including June 1955 (London 1955), 74.
  15. ^ Some of the production values are described in C. Benn, Mozart on the Stage (E Benn, London 1946).
  16. ^ Also with Mary Hamlin, Mary Jarred and Dr Sydney Northcote, with Bernhard Ord (continuo), Charles Kennedy Scott's A Capella singers, and directed by Hubert J. Foss, Decca, for the Purcell Club by subscription, X 101-107 (14 sides)). cf. Darrell 1936, 371.
  17. ^ Henderson 1954.

Further reading[edit]

  • D. Brook, Singers of To-day, Second (Revised) edition (Rockliff, London 1958), p. 110-117.
  • R.D. Darrell, The Gramophone Shop Encyclopedia of Recorded Music (New York 1936).
  • R. Elkin, Queen's Hall, 1893-1941 (Rider & Co, London 1944).
  • R. Elkin, Royal Philharmonic, The Annals of the R.P.S. (Rider & Co, London 1946).
  • E. Fenby, Delius as I Knew Him (Bell, London 1936).
  • R. Henderson, Per Ardua..., in N. Cardus (ed.), Kathleen Ferrier 1912-1953, A Memoir (Hamish Hamilton, London 1954), 36-58.
  • H. Rosenthal and J. Warrack, Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera (OUP, London 1974 reprint), p. 176.