Janet Baker

In this interview Janet Baker talks about her work with Austrian singing teacher Helene Isepp, the conductor Peter Gellhorn and the pianist Paul Hamburger as well as other émigré musicians. She also discusses the overall importance of émigré musicians from Germany and Austria on music in Britain.


Born in Yorkshire in 1933, the famed English mezzo-soprano Janet Baker never had a formal musical education. Coming from a far from affluent family, she left school to work in a bank and her earliest musical experiences were of watching her father in the Police Choir. After performing a small solo in Haydn's Nelson Mass with the Leeds Philharmonic Choir in 1953 Ilse Wolf, whom Janet sang alongside, gave her the contact details of a singing teacher in London. Inspired by her first taste of the concert platform Janet asked for a change of bank office to London and began lessons with Helene Isepp.

The move to London just after the end of WWII exposed Baker to many musical emigres from Europe, and a completely different life from that which she was accustomed to in Yorkshire. Her most immediate success was winning second prize in the 1956 Kathleen Ferrier competition and this allowed her to pursue her dream of performing on the bigger stage. Famed for her roles at Glyndebourne, ENO and her close collaboration with Benjamin Britten she became one of the greatest British singers and was awarded with a CBE in 1970. Her final performance came as Orfeo in Gluck's Orfeo and Euridice at Glyndebourne in 1982.

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