Saturday, 13 November 2010

Gurney at Remembrancetide

In today's Guardian is published one of Gurney's several previously unseen poems on the Armistice, The Bugle, the only source for which is an exercise book used by Gurney during January and February 1919, at which time Gurney, like many others, was returning to civilisation from active service. The poem betrays some of the thoughts of those returning, wondering how it is that life has continued apparently unchanged and uncaring in spite of what the soldiers have witnessed and been a part of.

There have been a couple of other interesting posts about Gurney in the last couple of weeks.

On All Hallows Eve Tim Kendall, my supervisor and co-editor in the edition of Gurney's complete poetry, posted on Gurney and All Hallows/All Saints – something Gurney keeps returning to in his poetry, from the early Toussaints of September 1918, quoted by Tim, to the late work of 1926. Gurney refers to the occasion numerous times during the late poetry; a day in the church's calendar which he commemorates specifically in an unpublished poem titled 'All Hallows', describing it as 'The day of honour and all love / The all-hallowed day of all friendly dead', on which occasion he celebrates Shakespeare amongst that saintly host, calling for the singing of 'Gloria and Eleison', 'Agincourt' and 'David’s songs' [viz. the psalms].

A calendar of days/commemorations pervades Gurney's late work. He writes many poems in honour of Saints Peter, Michael and others, of Good Friday (the day on which Gurney was shot in 1917), around the time of Lady Day (25 March), as well as on more secular anniversaries, such as the day of Johannes Brahms's death, and the anniversary of battles of the American civil war.

And latterly, blogger 'Classical Iconoclast', has posted that wonderful poem of November 1916, Bach and the Sentry.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

The National Trust's Ode to the Countryside

The National Trust have published an anthology of poems on the countryside, from which ten poems have been shortlisted and taken to the public vote to announce Britain's favourite poem of the countryside.

Whilst I consider such polls to be gimmicky and meaningless, it is gratifying to see one of Gurney's poems in the pastoral decalogue: 'By Severn'.

If England, her spirit lives anywhere
It is by Severn, by hawthorns, and grand willows.
Earth heaves up twice a hundred feet in air
And ruddy clay falls scooped out to the weedy shallows.
There in the brakes of May Spring has her chambers,
Robing-rooms of hawthorn, cowslip, cuckoo flower –
Wonder complete changes for each square joy’s hour,
Past thought miracles are there and beyond numbers.
If for the drab atmospheres and managed lighting
In London town, Oriana’s playwrights had
Wainlode her theatre and then coppice clad
Hill for her ground of sauntering and idle waiting.
Why, then I think, our chieftest glory of pride
(The Elizabethans of Thames, South and Northern side)
Would nothing of its meeding be denied,
And her sons praises from England’s mouth again be outcried.

Short of the general public knowing the entire poetic oeuvre and bringing it to a national election there is no way of knowing whether a better poem exists that hasn't been considered, and whether the small proportion of the population who deem (or know) to vote are representative of the 62 million people in the country.

However, since it would be nice to see Gurney being considered amongst England's more important poets, do take a look at the National Trust's page and vote for your favourite (as long as it's the Gurney!). Click here to go to the relevant National Trust page.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Catalogue now available online

Some may be pleased to know that I have just had confirmation that the beginnings of the catalogue are now available online. Hopefully clicking this link should take you to it. A small start, but it will be added to quite quickly from hereon, as I transfer my excel spreadsheet into the catalogue system, check it, and mark it as catalogued.

The link will bring up a list of records. However, it may be easier to view it as a tree, which is how the structure is designed. To do so, go into one of the entries and click on the red 'seal'. This will make it more obvious how it is laid out, and will highlight the main subheadings which contain detailed descriptions of the genres as a whole rather than specific items.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

A Festive End

And so this year's Three Choirs Festival has drawn to a close, and I have returned to normality (such as it is) in Lichfield.

I was unable to attend Roddy Williams's Saturday morning recital, it being very quickly sold out, but I heard from various people how terrific it was. This recital was notable not only for the performance of four Gurney songs, only one of which has so far been published, but also for the second performance of Ian Venables's song cycle 'The Pine Boughs Past Music': a setting of three poems by Gurney which concludes with a setting of a poem written 'In Memoriam' of Gurney by the editor of the 1973 volume of selected Gurney poems and fellow Gloucestershire poet, Leonard Clark.

Rather than attend the recital I headed to the archive and decided to risk the technical difficulties we have been having with the cataloguing databases in the latter half of this week and send part of the catalogue live: checking the entries and changing their status from 'draft' to 'catalogued'. This was a moment of relief in many ways, finally letting go of part - albeit at present a small part - of the archive, opening the first detailed entries and with it the physical items to public consultation. The catalogue should hopefully be backed up to the public server sometime on Monday, at which point that first part of the collection will be visible in searches done through the online archive catalogue. I am also investigating making the archive catalogue available on the Archives Hub, which I hope will happen in due course. I shall keep you posted.

When backed up to the public server we shall have available details of Gurney's string quartets, piano works, organ works, plays, and the first part of the essays catalogue. I shall complete the essays upload this week, add further musical works, and hopefully get the first part of the substantial correspondence catalogue up.

At evensong yesterday afternoon, as reported in a previous post, the Three Cathedral Choirs gave what is probably the first public outing of Gurney's psalm chant, which, as I have already said, was written in 1914 and used by Gurney during the war to steady his nerves in battle. When I first looked at the chant I found myself rather underwhelmed by it: this single chant has a rather lovely melody, but it does not contain anything extraordinary that sets it apart from many others. However, what I had failed to take into account was the psalm for which it was written. Sung to that text, the simple melody and harmony are suit perfectly; as one would expect from one who is hypersensitive to the musical setting of words, it is a well-wrought companion. Given the additional poignancy of the situation in which Gurney used it at Fauquissart in 1916 - with which 'story' Gloucester's Canon Precentor, Neil Heavisides, introduced the psalm - it was a deeply moving part of the service. Perhaps with the coming First World War anniversary, not to mention the annual Armistice Day commemorations, this chant should find some currency.

This has been an extraordinary week for Gurney. For a figure known, musically speaking, as song composer, his representation in the fields of chamber, orchestral and choral music, have done wonders in broadening the public perception of his work, and introducing his work to a much broader, new audience (the audience for English song being rather specialised). With these performances; in what I tried to say in the programme book essays, linking in some small way his musical and poetic works and placing it in the landscape Gurney loved; with Ian's talk; and with much media attention, including separate interviews on BBC Radio Gloucestershire with Ian and myself; with the opening up of the first part of the archive with its new, detailed catalogue: in all of this Gurney will find his way into new, sympathetic minds.

If you have experienced some of this and enjoyed it, do look further: there are numerous recordings; there are the published volumes of poetry; and there are the two biographies by Michael Hurd and Pamela Blevins. Search for Ivor Gurney on Amazon or some such and they shall appear.

There is of course still much to be done, so watch this space! I shall continue with the catalogue release, and Tim Kendall and I shall make our way through the more than 1,500 poems - only a third of which have been published to date - preparing them for publication by Oxford University Press. This week is a milestone on the way to a much Gurnier future. I am so very grateful to Adrian Partington - the Festival's Artistic Director - and to the performers – the Dante Quartet, Philharmonia Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins, the Festival Chorus (and what a chorus!! The best I have heard!), Cathedral Choirs, Roddy Williams and Susie Allen – for taking up Gurney's gauntlet.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

The morning after... (and catalogue matters)

I awoke early this morning to hear the glorious, heart warming sound of real rain; that rain that comes in a steady, constant stream, falling as if it has always fallen, and ever more shall fall: neither beginning nor end is imaginable. Not content with listening to it through the open window, I hastened out, foregoing tea for the present, and spent an hour walking around parts of Gloucester: the cathedral close and the docks, taking in the real joy of the morning.

Wandering down the Via Sacra to the docks I found myself humming a blend of Gurney and Finzi: The Trumpet and Intimations of Immortality - two of the works heard in last night's concert. Intimations is Finzi's true masterpiece (truly over and above Dies Natalis), and although I realised I had not heard if for a long while, it is one that I feel very deeply. With this and Elgar's Sea Pictures, sung majestically by Sarah Connolly, I was pondering Gurney's place in the programme, with this, the first professional performance of The Trumpet, and the first time Gurney's music has featured in one of the major evening concerts. I have no doubt in my mind that the work stood up very well against the two established pieces, and was an integral part of a coherent and remarkable programme.

Gurney's work is intense: it is a densely compacted in its ideas, and very powerful with it. It could perhaps have been more expansive in its setting (one would have liked it to have been slightly longer!) but the pacing of the piece, with its tremendous intensification and crescendo to the last 'arise' and final cadence in the orchestra, is masterfully judged.

My own input into the piece - the orchestral colouring, the work originally only being in piano score with no indications as to scoring - is something I have been left pondering, as one might expect. Against the scoring of the Elgar (a master orchestrator) and the Finzi, the Gurney seemed somewhat cloudy in parts, in spite of what I hoped to be a clarity of texture, not being too cluttered. I couldn't quite decide whether there were some issues with balance, or whether it was merely a little tentativeness on the part of the orchestra, who have had just two rehearsals on the work: one the week before the Three Choirs Festival and that yesterday afternoon. The Gurney, being relatively new, was obviously unknown, against two works which they must know very well; and Gurney's writing can be densely chromatic, which, it was obvious during the rehearsal, some of the players weren't quite believing to be true. In fact Adrian Lucas, who did a fabulous job at the helm last night, told me that at the first rehearsal he asked if there were any queries about the score, following which there was a flood of queries asking whether various notes were in fact correct (and I am pleased to say that they were!).

The upshot of all of this is: does the score need revising or not?! Adrian rebalanced the final chord slightly, adding a little more third, which was lacking in the overall texture, and this I shall certainly amend; but the rest? I shall ponder further. Who knows whether it will receive another outing for it to be necessary to make any revisions?! We shall see.

On my meanderings this morning I happened (intentionally) upon Wolfgang Buttress's The Candle - the new sculpture in the docks, for which I consulted on matters Gurney. From the two thirds of the base of the sculpture currently visible, I could see that there was no Gurney poetry engraved into it. Perhaps the intended use of two of Gurney's poems proved impracticable. Once the installation of the sculpture is completed I shall be able to say for sure...

And whilst I'm here: catalogues! (The same to you I hear you say!) There have been some technical difficulties with data on the archive servers, with records disappearing, so I have had to hold off the upload of the first part until this morning. Fingers crossed, that first part should go in fine, should not disappear, and should be on the public server following an update on Monday. I'll keep you posted!

Friday, 13 August 2010

Revelations and Psalms

The Three Choirs Festival is entering its final days, and what an exciting one it has been for Gurney! As has been said elsewhere on this blog, this week is in part a mini Gurney festival, with rare and first performances of orchestral, choral and chamber works, as well as works in the area regarded as Gurney's metier: song.

The opportunity to have works performed by professional ensembles is truly reaping rewards this week. On Wednesday the slow movement of Gurney's A major quartet was performed by the Dante Quartet in St. Mary's Church, Painswick. I was uncertain as to whether I would be able to get there, having been singing for a morning workshop, but I finished in time to take a taxi from Gloucester and reach Painswick in time for the concert, and I was glad I did so. The perfect, clean and sensitive execution of the movement proved the work to be everything I had imagined it to be in my mind's ear whilst preparing the edition. An often chromatic work, it is structurally coherent (something Gurney is often accused of lacking) and its argument clear. Perhaps most gratifying, talking to members of the quartet afterwards, was the passing comment about how they are sure the work will grow, interpretively and in understanding, as they perform it more. I hope they will indeed perform it more - and perhaps even add the other two extant movements, one of which - a molto allegro scherzo which probably belongs to the quartet, although it isn't titled as such - is a wonderful, if fiendishly difficult movement.

The great excitement yesterday was the premiere of A Gloucestershire Rhapsody, ninety years after its completion, in Cheltenham Town Hall. Prior to the performance, my co-conspirator in preparing the edition, Ian Venables (chairman of the Gurney Society and Trust and a composer in his own right) gave an insightful lecture on the work, placing it in the context of his other orchestral works, describing where Gurney is coming from in what he is trying to say, and also giving a few insights into the musical influences upon the Rhapsody. The latter was particularly interesting: although I know the work intimately in a textual sense, and I have my own views as to what Gurney is expressing in the work - many of which correlated with Ian's, I have not identified any specific potential progenitors in the music of the piece. Ian's suggestions were inspiring (Richard Strauss, the nature motif from Also Sprach Zarathustra) and perhaps, for me, a little provocative (Gustav Holst's Turn back O man, which I am not convinced he would have known).

Something that did occur to me during the talk, however, is that we have yet to consider the influence of Gurney's playing of the baryton in the Gloucester Battalion band. These are the sorts of lines of research which can take over rather: what was the repertoire of the band, and given the dominance of marches in Gurney's orchestral work (notably in the War Elegy, which marching songs/tunes did they play? One wonders whether Gurney's baryton experience might have also influenced his use of brass in the Gloucestershire Rhapsody and War Elegy. Interesting things to be mulled over indue course.

But, returning to the performance: some of the tempi were slightly swifter than Ian and I had envisaged, but the work was terrifically executed (what a joy English orchestral musicians are, being able to pick up these works so quickly and play with such conviction!), and conducted with understanding by Martyn Brabbins, who we discovered afterwards to be a closet Gurney fan! (He has previously recorded Herbert Howells's orchestrations of two Gurney songs for Hyperion.) Having been working on the piece for the last seven or eight months, preparing the scores for this premiere, it was really quite emotional to be hearing it in the flesh. More gratifying was the general reaction to the work by the public, most of whom found it a remarkable and enlightening piece, with so many questioning why it had never been performed before. Perhaps it is that the time appears now to be right for Gurney, when tonality and melody has come to the fore, after the preponderance of interest in more modernist music; and perhaps too, the growth of Gurney is now coming to a head, from the procession of proselytising of his work by Gerald Finzi, Leonard Clark, Michael Hurd, P.J. Kavanagh, Anthony Boden, Kelsey Thornton and George Walter, Pamela Blevins, in the founding of the Gurney Society fifteen years ago, and in the current band of happy Gurnites... One should also mention Adrian Partington, Artistic Director of the Gloucester Thee Choirs Festival: one can produce editions galore of unperformed Gurney works, but if no-one is willing to programme them, then there is only so much we can do! It is to him that Gurney will be most grateful, I am sure, for giving him the opportunity to be heard.

Yesterday Anne Boden reminded me of something Gurney said to Winnie Chapman: that his time will come and his work will have its day; it will take time - perhaps many years - but its time will come. And so it has.

I have this morning learned one further excitement: a premiere of which I was not aware until now. In the service of Choral Evensong tomorrow, Gurney's chant to psalm 23 will be given what may be its first performance. Composed in 1914 whilst at the Royal College of Music, the chant is not at all musically remarkable, but it is important in that Gurney used to sing the psalm to himself to this chant whilst serving in the trenches at Fauquissart in 1916 to steady his nerves.

And so to today: I am off to the archive to continue getting the first part of the new archive catalogue live online; then The Trumpet this evening (see my post earlier this week), and songs and psalms tomorrow. I look forward to seeing you there!

Monday, 9 August 2010

The Trumpet

It has been very pleasing to hear how much the Three Choirs Festival chorus have been enjoying Gurney's choral setting of Edward Thomas's The Trumpet, which they have been preparing for performance this Friday, 13th August as part of the Gloucester Festival - a festival that also sees the first performance of Gurney's A Gloucestershire Rhapsody for orchestra, which I talk about here.

This is the third performance of The Trumpet, which received its premiere a few years ago in Herefordshire as part of Paul Spicer's English Choral Experience, following which I undertook the orchestration of the work for the second performance a year later in Cumbria, conducted by Ian Jones.

Composed by Gurney in around 1921, the setting is quite distinct from that composed four years later for solo baritone and piano as a 'finisher' to his song cycle, 'Lights Out', published in 1926.

Edward ThomasIvor Gurney composed a score of settings of the poetry of Edward Thomas (pictured left), which, on his discovery of his work on his return from the war, also had a lasting and distinct influence upon Gurney's own poetry. That 'The Trumpet' was one of Thomas's poems to which Gurney might turn for setting was perhaps foreseen in comments like that in a letter to Jack Haines: ‘Dear things like “The Trumpet” hang long in the mind’. In spite of this enthusiasm, Gurney wrote of the poem's difficulty: “The Trumpet” is incoherent and its image not clear, but it is good.’

Certainly, the imagery of the poem is not clear. When I came to publish the piece in time for the second performance, I wrote of Thomas's words:

The poem was written in 1916 whilst Thomas was on army training in Trowbridge. He wrote to Eleanor Farjeon that he had 'written some verses suggested by the trumpet calls which go all day. They are not well done and the trumpet is cracked, but the Reveille pleases me (more than it does most sleepers).' The poem is perhaps itself a reveille, calling men to rise up against the world new-born – that is the world created by the devastating First World War. The call to ‘scatter the print of last night’s lovers’ could refer ironically to the earthly scars of the new, mechanical warfare – the trenches and shell holes – possibly even drawing a parallel in that war of man on man to a lovers’ feud. Thomas calls us to spurn that new world and return to the world that was before the war; perhaps to the older, simpler ‘wars’ fought between man and earth in our cultivation of the land.

However, Kelsey Thornton saw it differently and wrote to me suggesting it was more probably a plea for a brutal honesty in observation; to be clear-sighted, unswayed by sentiment or mystery. The opening calls one to awaken, getting rid of starry imaginings and romantic notions; ‘banish it!’. This notion continues into the next stanza [bringing a wonderful unison melody from Gurney] in which one is urged to listen to the clarity of the trumpet, forgetting all else – all prejudices and dreams – except for the truth that the world is more beautiful than any delusions about it might suppose: truth is better the imaginings.

Lasting but five minutes, Gurney's setting of this difficult poem is truly uplifting, balancing the vigour of shaking off the old with the lyricism of beauty and truth.

Although the manuscript of the work is written for choir with piano accompaniment (viz. short score), the accompaniment is in parts so dense and impractical that it must surely have been intended for orchestra. I have therefore realised the work, orchestrating the piece using Gurney’s two mature orchestral works as reference points, as well as the works of Vaughan Williams such as A Sea Symphony, which he so admired, and of which there are echoes in The Trumpet.

If you happen to be in the audience I should be glad to hear your thoughts on this piece. I hope you will agree that it is a marvellous work, which, as the first of Gurney's choral works to be performed in modern times - if not the first ever to be performed - brings to public attention a new facet of a composer who is principally known as a composer of song.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Weekend of English Song

Last weekend Emily (my wife) and I headed out to Ludlow to the Fourth Weekend of English Song, organised by the Finzi Friends, with that organisation's president, Iain Burnside, as Artistic Director.

With a lineup of singers including Elizabeth Watts, Andrew Kennedy and Roderick Williams, it couldn't fail to be a wonderful experience. Gurney's presence at the weekend, however, made it more particularly interesting. (His presence would obviously be spiritual, musical and poetic rather than physical!)

On the Friday of the Festival, Pamela Blevins spoke on Marion Scott, Howells and Gurney. However close I might be to Gurney - his work and his story - hearing aspects of his life recounted still has the power to move me very deeply, and Pam succeeded in doing so here. Immediately following this, Kate Kennedy gave a talk/workshop on Gurney's song cycle Ludlow and Teme. This is a work I have had a close association with over the last four years, bringing Gurney's revised version to publication by Stainer & Bell (currently at second proof stage!). However, her ideas about Gurney's Housman settings in this cycle brought a surprising new insight to the work, reaffirming the importance of this piece and its status as one of Gurney's masterpieces. The workshop concluded with a full performance of the cycle, in its original version. This again affirmed thoughts in my mind that Gurney's revisions, although completed in the mental hospital - a time when some have suggested he was incapable of sustaining coherent ideas and arguments - were truly an improvement, and that it is right to be bringing the revised version to publication.

In the evening, Gurney featured once again, with his Five Elizabethan Songs, performed by Liz Watts, with Iain Burnside at the piano. These songs were wonderfully performed. Whilst seated at the page-turning stool I couldn't help wondering how the set might work in Gurney's original orchestration - 2 flutes, 2 clarinets, harp and 2 bassoons. Only the full score for the last song, Spring, is extant.

Gurney's presence at the weekend continued the following evening in Iain Burnside's powerful Guildhall School of Music and Drama dramatic production, performed by a group of students from that place, 'The lads in their hundreds'. Amidst the extraordinarily varied tapestry of songs and texts, one noticed Gurney's poem 'First Time In', subtly dropped in, giving the poem a perfect context for appreciating its genesis and situation more fully.

Finally, in the festival's finale, on the Sunday - a recital exploring songs with 'A Sense of Place' - Gurney appeared both under his own name and under another. The first was the West Sussex Drinking Song, vigorously performed by Roddy Williams with the male students of the Guildhall joining in with the refrain: something with which Gurney would have been well pleased. He would almost certainly have thought of the song being sung in an inn with the regulars at the bar joining in with the chorus: "I am singing the best song ever sung, and it has a rousing chorus" - which indeed it did!

Gurney's final presence at the weekend was in Roderick Williams's wonderful song 'Spirits of Festival', commissioned by the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival in 2007, which celebrates the ghosts of Three Choirs festivals past, their spirits still wandering the cathedral close. With words by Roddy's father, Adrian Williams, we met George Dyson ("Safe"! Paul Spicer, Dyson's biographer, baulked at that!), Gerald Finzi, Vaughan Williams, Herbert Howells and others, both in words and in music, Roddy's music subtly quoting various works by all the composers mentioned (how I love that opening of Vaughan Williams's Fifth symphony which recurred throughout the song!) and a very amusing parody of the Festival's 'new commission'. The transition from Howells's Collegium Regale into Take Him Earth into King David was wonderfully subtle. Gurney, of course, was seen, 'still not right'; and rather nicely, his music was to have almost the last word, in (if I remember rightly!) a quote from 'Severn Meadows'. In the dressing room before the concert Roddy had joked that he was laying claim to the Gurney being heard, having scrubbed out Gurney's signature and put his own in place. I thought it was a joke, but no, it was entirely serious, and in performance was one of the highlights of the recital.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Gurney Weekend, 15-16 May 2010

If you haven't already, book now for the Ivor Gurney Society's Spring Weekend!

Taking place in Churchdown, on the edge of Gloucester, on the side of Chosen Hill, Saturday 15 May features talks on Gurney and Graham Peel, given by critic Roderic Dunnett and artist and scholar Rolf Jordan, respectively, and a recital by some chap called Philip Lancaster, accompanied by Andrew Plant. On the Sunday, 16th, we have a Gurney related walk followed by lunch at a local hostelry. These weekends are always most enjoyable and memorable.

The song recital will feature songs by Graham Peel, together with settings by Gurney, Herbert Howells and John Ireland. Combined tickets for the talk and recital are £12 and can be obtained from John Phillips, by telephoning 01432 363103, or email johnl[dot]hay[at!]googlemail[dot]com.

To find out more about the Society, visit the Ivor Gurney Society website.

Monday, 15 March 2010


On Saturday I was in Gloucester, not this time to work in the archive but to sing a concert at the Cathedral. Having a few hours between rehearsal and performance, and being set at liberty with a motor-carriage, I ventured across the Severn to Maisemore in the hope of finding firstly the home of Gurney's paternal grandparents, and then to see what, if any, Gurneys were at rest in the churchyard.

One of Gurney's letters of 1927 gives the address of his grandmother, whom he visited weekly with his father, David, walking across the bridge at Over and through the meadows to the village. In spite of this information, and with a half remembered image of the house in my mind from the only surviving photograph of the house and his grandmother, I was unsuccessful in this, my first 'pilgrimage'. However, in the churchyard, I found at the south east corner of the church the grave of his grandparents, the headstone marking which is beginning to suffer from decay. His grandfather died in 1875, 15 years before Gurney was born. His grandmother lived until 191? (the last character of the date is eroded); to the ripe age of 90.

Lights Out

This week sees the release of a new Gurney CD: a recording of his Edward Thomas 'book' (as he called it in a letter of 1925) of songs, Lights Out - a set compiled by Marion Scott for publication by Stainer & Bell in 1926. Although compiled at this time, it consists principally of settings made in 1918 and 1921, with the exception of the last, 'The Trumpet', which was written in July 1925 especially for the volume (a second setting composed at this time, 'Words', was also intended for the set, although it never made it into the volume).

The recording is unusual in that it is not Gurney's piano version which has been recorded, but an especially commissioned orchestration of the set by Jeremy Dibble - a set to be recommended if only for the exquisitely beautiful song from which it takes its title. I have yet to hear the recording, but I understand Dibble's orchestration enlightens this, in places textually difficult, set, and Roderick Williams is the most eminent and proven interpreters of Gurney's songs.

The recording is issued on the Dutton Epoch label (Dutton CDLX7243), and is cast alongside the first recording of Elgar's Sea Pictures to be made with baritone instead of the traditional contralto. Full details of the release can be found on Dutton's website.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Remarkable numbers and revised opinions

In spite of the quietude on the blog front, work has been continuing in the archive and on the Gurney research front, with my endeavouring to get some thoughts down on paper ahead of PhD submission at the end of the year. I thought I would share some thoughts and facts from today's visit to the archive, which are just a few of the interesting things that occupy my mind as I go from day to day in this undertaking.

I have long wanted to try to put a figure on the number of poems written by Gurney, not least looking forward to the OUP edition. As I am going through finalising the catalogue, I am in a position to start counting, having drawn together the chronology of the poetry manuscripts, working out which manuscripts might be drafts of other poems etc. Today I have totted up the single 1925 poetry manuscripts: a total of 288 poems. This is overshadowed by the quantity written in 1926 - the equivalent of one for every day of the year, 365. Add to this the notebooks from the period, The Book of Five Makings and Best Poems - a further 116 poems - and the total comes to an extraordinary 769 poems from these two years alone. It is a remarkable body of work, some of which is very fine.

Today I was also rehousing the post-1926 correspondence. As I went, I was re-reading some of the later letters. One of the anecdotal stories told of Gurney is that when the proofs of the Music and Letters symposium were shown to Gurney late in 1937, prior to their publication in January 1938, Gurney left them unopened, unable to open them in his illness, and saying that the Symposium had come 'too late'. The correspondence presents a less melancholic state of mind than the tragic case that has often been projected. Yes, Gurney is fifteen years into his incarceration, and is ill at the time (the proofs were despatched by Marion Scott to Gurney on 27 November 1937). He is finding it difficult to write (although there are no extant writings beyond 1927), but he is still reading avidly (he reads the two volume Everyman edition of Boswell's Life of Johnson in the days around the arrival of the proofs) and in his letters projects a less sorry figure than one has been lead to believe.

Boswell was one of the books read during 1937, but the one name that recurs in most of Gurney's letters from this year is A.E. Housman: he is Gurney's constant companion, from Spring of that year until his death on Boxing Day of that year, at the age of 47.