Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Gurney and Edward Thomas

This coming Saturday, 16 May, Churchdown, on the slopes of Chosen Hill, plays host to an event jointly hosted by the Ivor Gurney Society and the Edward Thomas Fellowship. The marriage of the two societies in this event is a natural one: Gurney, having been introduced to Thomas's poetry by John Haines (who knew Thomas personally) in autumn 1917, took the poetry to heart, making numerous musical settings of Thomas as well as becoming a major influence upon his own verse. In fact, when Gurney left hospital in 1918 and began to rejuvenate his creativity, Haines acknowledged the beginning of a new phase in Gurney's poetry, albeit with the influence of Thomas's poetry being a little too present. Thomas also puts in a named appearance in a few of Gurney's poems - notably in 'The Mangel-Bury', which was the subject of much discussion a couple of weeks ago when it was featured as 'Poem of the Week' in The Guardian - see the Guardian site and extensive blog commentary at

Thomas had, by the time of Gurney's introduction to his work, and as described in 'The Mangel-Bury', 'fallen at Arras'. However, in 1932 Thomas's widow, Helen, visited Gurney in the asylum, at (if I remember rightly) the behest of the Finzis. She took with her some of Edward's maps and, tracing the map with his finger, relived the routes that Thomas had marked on them, Thomas and Gurney almost walking side by side in his reliving of those routes both he and Thomas knew.

With some 90 people booked to attend the event already, tickets may no longer be available, but it could be worth getting in touch to see if you could be squeezed in. If you can, you will be treated to three short talks - one on Thomas, one on Gurney and one on Gurney's musical settings of Thomas. There is also a recital given by soprano April Frederick featuring some of these settings.

For those who might be interested, there were 19 solo song settings of Thomas:

The Penny Whistle (1918)
Sowing (1918)
Lights Out (1919)
To-day I think [aka 'Scents'] (1919)
Bright Clouds (1920)
Snow (1921)
The cherry trees bend over (1921)
*The Bridge (1921)
*The Gallows (1921)
Cock-crow (1921)
*Adlestrop (1921)
*The Owl (1921)
*The Mill-Pond (1921)
*In Memoriam (1921)
*Out in the Dark (1921 rev. 1925)
*It Rains (c.1921-2)
Will you come? (1922)
*Words (1925)
The Trumpet (1925)

Those songs marked with an asterisk remain unpublished. 'Adlestrop', however, is probably going to be performed on 15 July at Minstrel Music's summer music festival near Ipswich, Suffolk. (Details will no doubt be published on their website in due course.) 'The Penny Whistle', 'Lights Out', 'Scents', 'Bright Clouds', 'Will you come?' and 'The Trumpet' were published by Stainer & Bell in 1926 as the song cycle, Lights Out.

There is also a choral setting of 'The Trumpet', composed in around 1921. First performed at Paul Spicer's English Choral Experience in 2007, it was given its first performance in my orchestration as part of the Cumbria Choral Initiative's Vaughan Williams Festival in Kendal in July 2008. Vocal scores of this work are available from Chosen Press.


Unknown said...

Given that the centenary of Edward Thomas's death is coming up in 2017, I would like to perform some of these settings. Do you know where the published settings are available? Also, where could I get hold of the unpublished ones?

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