Friday, 25 September 2009

Rhapsodising Gurney's Home-coming

Followers will have noticed that I haven't been on the blog for a while. There are a number of things to catch up on, which I shall so do in posts during the next week. To begin with, this home-coming is best marked by some Gurney home-comings: recognition of Gurney in his native Gloucester.

Firstly, for many years there has been a plaque stuck down a side alley, next to Boots on Eastgate Street, which marked the approximate location of the address, 3 Queen St (long demolished) where Gurney was born. This was in such a dingy corner that it would only be seen by those seeking it out, and hardly a fitting memorial to draw attention to one of Gloucester's most notable sons. Thanks to the efforts of city councillor and fellow First World War literary researcher, Sebastian Field, the council were persuaded to cast a new plaque which could be mounted in a more prominent position, on a pillar in front of Boots, next to the Roman remains that are on view there. The readiness with which this can now be seen by the casual passer-by can only e a good thing. Read Sebastian's report of the unveiling of the plaque here.

The second thing to report is the announcement of the Three Choirs Festival programme for next year, 7-15 August 2010, which features what almost amounts to a mini Gurney festival in the latter part of the week! The most exciting item in the programme is the first performance of Gurney's Gloucestershire Rhapsody for orchestra. Ian Venables and I have recently met to begin the process of editing the work for this premiere, which is to take place at Cheltenham Town Hall, conducted by Martyn Brabbins. Composed between 1919 and 1921, this is a remarkable work that portrays Gurney's view of Gloucestershire. Rather than wallowing in a perhaps cliched rhapsodic lyricism, Gurney's c.20 minute work is a great sweeping landscape which portrays the nobility of his Gloucestershire - echoed in lines from his poetry such as 'Crickley cliffs blared a trumpet ever', and also something of its heritage and Gurney's recognition of Gloucestershire being as much within him as around him, recalling musics of former ages in a curious section which seems to smack of a musical mediaevalism, what may be harking back to an almost Virgilian pastoral idyll. Although completed in 1921, it was never performed, although it was listed in contemporary biographical summaries as being one of his most important works. In some of his later letters he asked that it may be performed under the auspices of a Patron's Fund concert at the Royal College of Music - such concerts as saw the first performance of the War Elegy in 1921 - but it was never to be.

As well as this important premiere, there will be a rare opportunity to hear a Gurney string quartet movement, and a recital featuring his songs. However, Gurney will also feature for the first time in one of the main cathedral concerts; his music will be performed on the stage upon which he himself had such success as a boy treble when he appeared alongside Madame Albani as the Youth in Mendelssohn's Elijah. This is for a performance of a choral work I recently revived and orchestrated: The Trumpet; a setting of a poem by Edward Thomas dating from around 1921. This will be a rousing opening to a concert which features Elgar's Sea Pictures and Finzi's Intimations of Immortality. For full details of the programme visit the Three Choirs Festival website.

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