Isobel Baillie


b. 1895    d. 1983

The esteemed Scottish soprano, Isobel (Isabella) Baillie, was the youngest child of a Hawick master baker and his wife. She was a typical “Scottish lass,” with red hair and a fair complexion. Showing early musical talent, she had singing lessons from the age of nine and won a scholarship to the High School in Manchester, where her family had settled. In Manchester she was a pupil of Sadler Fogg.

Isobel Baillie gave her first performance of the Messiah at the age of 15. In 1917 she made a wartime marriage to Henry Leonard Wrigley; the couple had one daughter. In 1921 she was invited to appear with Manchester’s Hallé Orchestra, and she made her first, highly successful, London appearance in 1923. During 1925-1926 Isobel studied with Guglielmo Somma in Milan. Thereafter she made numerous appearances as an oratorio and Lieder artist in England.

Isobel Baillie, who was praised for the purity and clarity of her tone, was now well established as a singer of the Messiah (she is reputed to have performed this work over 1,000 times) and of other choral works, notably Haydn’s Creation, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and Brahms’s German Requiem. In 1933 she became the first British performer to sing in the Hollywood Bowl in California. ‘The Nightingale’ of the Halle was chosen by Toscanini for Brahms’s Requiem. Although she did not regard herself as an operatic singer, her performances of Gluck’s Orpheus and Charles Gounod’s Faust were very popular. She was also noted for her renderings of British music, including Vaughan Williams’s Serenade to Music (of which she was the original singer), Elgar’s The Kingdom, and Howells’s Hymnus Paradisi.

Isobel Baillie taught at the Royal College of Music in London (1955-1957, 1961-1964), Cornell University in Ithaca, New York (1960-1961), and the Manchester School of Music (from 1970). She continued to give lectures and recitals until her retirement.

In 1951 Isobel Baillie was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire; in 1978 she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Her autobiography was aptly titled Never Sing Louder Than Lovely (London, 1982).

Comin’ through the Rye

From Columbia DB 2080 matrix CA 19000. Piano by Gerald Moore.