Emma Kirkby

Emma Kirkby

Emma Kirkby portrait.jpg
Carolyn Emma Kirkby

(1949-02-26) 26 February 1949 (age 69)
Camberley, Surrey, England, UK
OccupationClassical soprano in
Years active1971 (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. She has sung on over 100 recordings.[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[]

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

She 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 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 100 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. Her 1980 recording of Handel's Messiah conducted by Christopher Hogwood brought her international acclaim. The recording was later named one of the top 20 recordings of all time by BBC Music Magazine.[5]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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", placing Kirkby at number 10.[6]

On 21 January 2011 it was announced that Kirkby had been awarded the Queen's Medal for Music,[7] 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.[8]


She was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 2007 Queen's Birthday Honours List.

Personal life[]

From 1971-83 she was married to conductor Andrew Parrott. She was later in a long-term relationship with lutenist Anthony Rooley, with whom she has a son.[9] On 30 April 2015 she married conductor Howard Williams.

Emma Kirkby is a Co-President of the opera company Hampstead Garden Opera.[10]


  1. ^ Rushdie and Eavis lead honours, bbc.co.uk, 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. ^ "Conductor Christopher Hogwood dies aged 73". BBC News. Retrieved 19 April 2015.
  6. ^ "Are these the 20 best sopranos of the recorded era?". The Guardian. 14 March 2007.
  7. ^ The Queen’s Medal For Music 2010, 21 January 2011, Buckingham Palace, 21 January 2011
  8. ^ The Queen's Medal for Music, 21 January 2011, Buckingham Palace, 21 January 2011.
  9. ^ "Icons – Emma Kirkby". gramophone.co.uk. 21 March 2016. Retrieved 15 September 2018.
  10. ^ "Hampstead Garden Opera". Hampstead Garden Opera website. Retrieved 22 December 2017.

External links[]