Saturday, 31 January 2009

Cornish influences

As part of my work in the archive I am transcribing all of Gurney's notebooks. I recently transcribed the contents of a small green notebook, the first part of which contains a diary of a holiday in Cornwall, from 22-29 December 1918. Gurney had been invited down to Cornwall by the novelist and musician Ethel Voynich - a friend of Marion Scott noted for her novel The Gadfly. Voynich also invited two other men of a similar age to Ivor: her nephew, Geoffrey Taylor, and a friend of his from Trinity College Cambridge, Edgar Adrian. It was a remarkable group: Taylor went on to be knighted and given the Order of Merit for his contribution to physics, and in 1932 Adrian was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine, for his work on the human nervous system. I have made brief enquiries at Trinity Cambridge regarding the papers of these two alumni, hoping that there might be their own diary for this time or perhaps some correspondence that might mention Gurney. Adrian's papers aren't currently accessible, but amongst those relating to Geoffrey Taylor there is a manuscript of the first poem of Severn & Somme: 'To Certain Comrades'. Written - and indeed published - well before this holiday, it could be that Voynich sent it to her nephew to acquaint him with Ivor's work prior to the holiday.

The Cornish holiday is a notable occasion in Gurney anecdotage, for, as Taylor reports in a letter to Marion Scott, quoted by Scott in her essay on 'Gurney: The Man' in the January 1938 Music and Letters tribute to Gurney:

'We went a walk one day out on to the end of Gurnard Head, which is a rocky peninsula on the north coast of Cornwall. On the way Ivor was rather abstracted and whenever we stopped, he lay on the grass, usually face down, pulled out a little long note book ruled with music lines and began to write. When we got to Gurnard Head, 'A' found a little chimney (i.e. a crack between two rocks) which led on to a little place which was otherwise inaccessible. We took I. G. up this, showing him where to put his hands and feet. Then we went back down the chimney and climbed round the rocks back to the grass neck which connects Gurnard Head with Cornwall. We were talking and did not notice that I. G. was not following till we got to the neck. It was then getting dusk. 'A' and I went back to look for I. G. and finally found him at the top of the little chimney writing in the dark. He had gone back and climbed up by himself, but I very much doubt if he could have got down by himself even if it had been light. We climbed up and brought him back in the dark!'

The music he was writing was a setting of Francis Ledwidge's 'Desire in Spring'; also titled by Gurney 'Twilight Song'.

The diary in the green notebook makes no mention of the escapade, nor is a visit to 'St. Gurnard's Head' [sic] mentioned, the landmark only been seen from afar. This walk over Gurnard's Head must therefore have taken place on the Friday, 27 December, for that is the one day that Gurney didn't diarise, leaving one and a half pages for it to be filled in later.

Aside to a few small notes, this account of the holiday is the most extensive piece of diary we have in Gurney's papers, and it makes interesting reading. He notes the places they visited but with some wonderful observations that show how his poets' eye was an integral part of his being. There are comments on sunlight and clouds - once noted as 'Armada clouds black against the skies' - an idea used later in his poetry; at Cambourne an incident is captured in pointeliste notes: 'Stars. Lifeboat launching. Flares, moving crowd. The coloured boat. Orion. Moving water. Lighted streets.'; granite is not merely present, but a scene is 'crowned with granite rocks'. At Zennor 'great rocks stood up and great cliffs fell. The sea got up gradually and threw the best clouds of spray I had seen yet. One could hear the thunder of unprisoned air.'

He endeavoured to turn some of his observations into an unfinished poem 'On Zennor Head', drafted later in the notebook. However, this poem appears not to be alone: One observation could be at the root of a (rather better!) poem drafted in the notebook, and which was collated in 80 Poems or So - an intended collection that only saw publication in 1997: 'The Companions'. The poem is dated by Marion Scott 9 January 1919, but the diary entry suggests that he had been mulling over the idea for twelve days.

At the very end of the holiday, Sunday 29 December, Gurney writes, ‘. . . Returned to the house at Zennor, got our package. Returned through half light to first bright star-light to St Ives over the stone stiles – bridges saw hills against the last clear light under black clouds, and Orion over the sea Jupiter (presumably) a king above all.’ Orion and Jupiter are those companions named in the poem, with the addition of '[Jupiter's] courtiers Mars ad Regulus'. They accompanied Gurney 'On uplands bleak and bare to wind... Past dusky rut and pool alight', until 'My door reached, gladly had I paid with stammered thanks his courtesy and theirs'.


Karen said...

Thank you for this, Philip. In 2004 when I discovered Ethel Voynich's music collection at the Library of Congress, I was pleased to find a manuscript copy of Desire in Spring that Ivor had given to Voynich to thank her for inviting him to stay with her in Cornwall. At the end of the very neat score simply wrote "December 1918". The passage of time must have played tricks on E.L.V.'s memory because by 1938 she recalled that it was Adrian Boult who help rescue Gurney. I found a note to this effect in one of the three large boxes that hold her collection.

Philip Lancaster said...

I had heard from some source or other that it was Adrian Boult who has helped to rescue Gurney and was wondering where this had come from. The references to 'Adrian' might have been seen by some as being a forename rather than surname and the connection had perhaps been derived from that.

You sent a copy of the Library of Congress 'Desire in Spring' manuscript some time ago for the Gloucester archive, now housed with the original copy we have in the collection, but it would be interesting to see Voynich's note on the Cornish escapade - perhaps once the Library of Congress ELV collection is finally catalogued and the item can be identified and located quickly.

Karen said...

I don't think that the Voynich collection has been fully catalogued yet. The reference I found to Adrian Boult was written on something -- I think on a Gurney obit that she had. If I remember correctly it was written in pencil. I remember thinking at the time that it was a bit odd that Adrian Boult would have been a friend of Geoffrey but then the Taylors and Ethel walked among so many different people that anything was possible. Of course Ethel's music dominates the collection. Some of it is bound and organized while some manuscript pages are loose and floating about. And there are A LOT of scraps of paper containing information such as her notes for lectures that look intriguing but will take someone ages to sort through and organize. I found the reference to the Levetus sisters' full names written on the back of an envelope in a list of people to whom Ethel had sent one of her compositions. I'm not sure when I will be going to Washington again but when I do I will go through the papers again.

Philip Lancaster said...

If you or anyone else ever gets round to cataloguing Ethel Voynich's music, there is a small piece in the Gurney collection, sent, if I remember rightly, to Marion after Ivor's death.

At some point I would like to get to America to go through the Berg collection in New York and possibly the Blunden papers in Texas. The Library of Congress would be another interesting port of call with the Voynich collection - should they allow it to be consulted pre-/mid-cataloguing. I don't know whether this will ever happen, but it is in the back of my mind.

Karen said...

The piece was a"little motet" that she had sent to Marion in March 1938. She explained: "You will not see why this little motet, after hanging about unwritten for just on 20 years, should have jumped out ready to be put on paper as soon as the copy of Music and Letters arrived. Its connection with Ivor is just in my own association with him. I was struggling with it -- and totally failing to make any headway at all -- when he came to stay with me in Cornwall the Christmas after the Armistice, and talked to him about it on the moors. (Naturally, I could not do it then, having no familiarity with the 16th century a capella medium)[she more than made up for this lack of knowledge later]. It had never been touched again, and suddenly came clear when I had read the account of the Gurnard's Head excursion, so I feel impelled to send it to you."
I will check with my friend at the Library of Congress to see where they might be in cataloguing the ELV collection. It would be interesting to have someone take a look at her music to see if it has any merit -- lots of big works, oratorio, cantata. I wrote out a list of everything but did not go into great detail.

Coastcard said...

I wonder you have come across the poem, 'Zennor' by Anne Ridler (which was read at my request on Poetry Please about a year ago)? I find it most evocative. I watched the programme, too - it is one of my favourite drives. I was trying to post this on Sebastian's blog - but it would not take my comment!