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.

1 comment:

Pamela said...

Thank you again for all the coverage of the Gurney events and your insightful personal comments.