Saturday, 12 May 2012

An Anniversary and a Poetic Centenary

Although it was raised a few months ago by some members of the Gurney Society Committee, it has sort of passed me (and others!) by that this year marks the 75th anniversary of Gurney's death, passing away on Boxing Day, 26 December, 1937. Part of me thinks that the anniversary thing is rather a red herring: why can't composers and poets be marked at any time? – there is no requirement for there to be a calendrical accident to warrant putting on some sort of commemoration or celebration. A few ideas have been mooted for the December date, but falling on the day after Christmas rather limits options. I shall post on here with details of anything that happens.

One anniversary that is perhaps worth drawing attention to is the centenary of Gurney's first poetry, which falls about now. A squib of a verse dating from Easter 1907 has recently come to light in a book dedication in a volume presented by Gurney to Alfred Cheesman. However, the first 'proper' attempt at poetry that we have is a short thing called The Irish Sea:

The after glow slid out of Heaven,
Heavily arched the vault above,
Then round my bows, and in my gleaming
Wake, dim presences ’gan to move.

My boat sailed softly all the night,
Through wraiths and shapes of mystery,
But dawn brought once again to sight
The friendly and familiar sea.

This poem was sent to Gurney's boyhood friend F.W. Harvey in an undated letter, and a manuscript (again undated) of the poem is extant in the archive, which is annotated as being a homage to one of Gurney's great literary influences, Hilaire Belloc. While undated, the letter contains valuable internal evidence that allows us to put a date on the verse. Kelsey Thornton's invaluable volume of Gurney's Collected Letters - a book permanently at my side - dates the letter to June 1913, on account of a mention of Gurney's having just been to see the Abbey Theatre performing J.M. Synge's Playboy of the Western World at London's Court Theatre, which production ran at this theatre in the first week of June 1913. A few weeks ago I was preparing this poem for its inclusion in Tim Kendall and my edition of Gurney's complete poetry for OUP. Gurney's letter notes that the poem had just been rejected by The Eyewitness - a journal edited by Hilaire Belloc, to which fact Gurney draws attention on account of the poem having been written in homage to Belloc. When looking into Belloc I discovered that Belloc handed over the editorship The Eyewitness in June 1912, shortly following which it changed its name to The Witness. This didn't quite tally with the Abbey Theatre evidence, so I went back to the Court Theatre listings for 1912 and found that the same company presented the same play in the same week of that year: so we can now be sure that it was June 1912 in which Gurney was writing to Harvey. If by early June the poem had already been rejected by Belloc's Eyewitness, it must have been written some time before this, so this poem must have been written in around May 1912.

SO: while there may have been other poems before this first extant poem, and while Gurney's poetry began to flow in earnest whilst on army training in 1915, on the evidence we have we can say that around this time must fall the centenary of Gurney's first serious attempts to write poetry.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

A Soldier and a Maker: A Gurney play at London's Barbican

Opening this week: Iain Burnside has written a play by Iain Burnside based upon the songs, poems and other writings of Ivor Gurney, which tells the story of his life. It is being presented at the Barbican's Pit Theatre between 20th and 28th April, performed by students at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Further details are available here: The play was previewed on Radio 3's In Tune programme just over a week ago, and it sounds like it presents a unique and fascinating insight into Gurney's life and creativity.

If you can't get to London this coming week, the play will also be presented as part of the Cheltenham Festival in June. Watch this space for details!

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Major Gurney Event, Bristol, 21 January.

A hugely important event is taking place in Bristol Cathedral on the evening of Saturday 21 January 2012, which will see the premiere of an award winning film on Ivor Gurney, produced by Redcliffe Film Productions, Severn & Somme, as well as the performance of all three extant orchestral works by Gurney - the Coronation March, War Elegy and A Gloucestershire Rhapsody, and four orchestrated songs (orch. Herbert Howells and Ian Venables).

This will be the first time all three of these works will have been heard together, and will be only the second performance of both the Coronation March and A Gloucestershire Rhapsody. The works will be performed by the Bristol Classical Players, cond. Tom Gauterin, with a cameo performance by myself for the orchestrated songs: By a Bierside, In Flanders, Ev'n Such is Time and Severn Meadows.

This is an event not to be missed! To view the flyer, which includes contact/booking details for tickets, click here!

Also, an advance warning: a Gurney Study Day is being organised by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama on 25 March, and the Gurney Society's Spring Event will take place in Gloucester Cathedral on Saturday 5 May, including opportunity to view some Gurney manuscripts, a song recital, talks, an organ recital and choral evensong, incorporating various Gurney works (including premiere performances and unpublished poems) along the way. Put these dates in your diary now.