WARLOCK: The Curlew / Lillygay / Peterisms / Saudades (Adrian Thompson/ Christine Pendrill/ Christopher Maltmann/ Duke Quartet/ John Constable/ Mark Brown/ Philippa Davies) (Naxos: 8.557115)
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Peter Warlock (1894-1930)
The Curlew Lillygay Peterisms, Sets 1 and 2 Saudades
In a letter of 1919 to Bernard van Dieren, a composer whom he greatly admired, Philip Heseltine explained how he had submitted a group of songs to the publisher Winthrop Rogers under the pseudonym of Peter Warlock, having failed to find a publisher under his own name. The ruse was soon revealed, but not before distinguished singers of the time had started to take an interest in them.
Born in London in 1894, Heseltine had been encouraged in his musical enthusiasms during his time at school, latterly at Eton. There followed an introduction to Delius, who continued to show an interest in his work, and after study in Germany and a year at Oxford reading Classics, he turned his attention to the study of earlier English music, although himself without formal musical training. As a pacifist, in any case medically unfit for military service, he spent the war years in Cornwall and then in Ireland, before returning to London, the centre of his later activities, broken by a period with his mother in Wales and a time in Kent. A certain instability of character, evident, perhaps, in the dual Heseltine/Warlock identities, has been attributed in part to the early death of his father in 1896. Peter Warlock died in December 1930 of gas poisoning, whether by accident or suicide.
Warlock is remembered in particular for his Capriol Suite, an attractive reworking for string orchestra of French dance music of the sixteenth century, also arranged for piano duet and fuller orchestra. A number of his carols have a firm place in Christmas choral repertoire, while his many songs form a remarkable body of work, influenced by Delius, Van Dieren, and the Elizabethan and Jacobean composers that had formed the core of his musicological studies as Philip Heseltine.
The group of settings of poems by W.B.Yeats, The Curlew, written between 1920 and 1922, is scored for tenor, with flute, cor anglais and string quartet. The four songs are interrupted by an Interlude, and the first starts after an evocative introduction, with the cries of the curlew and peewit represented by the flute and cor anglais. The cycle reflects the mood of the poems.
Lillygay is a 1922 cycle of five songs, of which three are here included. The poems are drawn from an anthology by Victor Neuburg and the settings are accompanied by the piano, settings of seeming simplicity in their technical perfection, the best examples of English song-writing of the period, ending with the lively Rantum Tantum. A similar mood is continued in Peter Warlocks Fancy, a setting of 1924.
The two sets of so-called Peterisms were written in 1922. The first three songs are settings of verses by George Peele, John Fletcher and possibly by John Skelton. The lively first song, Chopcherry, a reference to the game of catching a hanging cherry in the mouth, in the manner of bob-apple, is in great contrast with the sad lament from The Maids Tragedy, the mood broken by the vigorous popular sixteenth-century Rutterkin. The second set starts with a setting of Nicholas Udalls Roister Doister, now perhaps more familiar from Benjamin Brittens setting of the same words in his Friday Afternoons. There follows a setting of verse by Thomas Nashe, Spring, and John Wevers earlier praise of youth.
My gostly fader is a moving setting of an English version of a poem by Charles dOrléans. The song was written in 1918. The mood changes with a setting of Stevensons Bright is the ring of words, written in the same year and originally under the title To the Memory of a Great Singer.
The three songs of Saudades, a title derived from
I. Cranmer-Byng, who uses the Portuguese word to encapsulate the sense of sadness and regretful yearning for what is now past, were written in 1916 and 1917 and published after the war. The first is a setting of a poem by Li Po, in an English version by Cranmer-Byng, included in a collection A Feast of Lanterns. It was included, with Warlocks Christmas Hommage to Bernard van Dieren in the memorial concert for the composer, for which Van Dieren wrote a setting of Bruce Blunts The Long Barrow. The same melancholy permeates the following Shakespearean Take, O take those lips away, and the Eton schoolmaster William Corys version of Callimachus, Heraclitus.
The cloths of Heaven, a setting of W.B.Yeats, dates from 1916, and The frostbound wood, a setting of words by Warlocks friend Bruce Blunt, was written in 1929 for issue with The Radio Times. Bethlehem Down, with words again by Blunt, appeared first as a part-song, a Christmas supplement to the Daily Telegraph in 1927, reworked as a solo song in 1930. Sweet and twenty is a setting of Shakespeares O mistress mine from Twelfth Night written in 1924, and in And wilt thou leave me thus? Warlock has recourse to words by Sir Thomas Wyatt. The song was written in 1928.
In Mr Bellocs Fancy of 1921 Warlock turns to verses by that master of parody, J. C. Squire, in a song that is nevertheless a tribute to Hilaire Belloc, whose poems he also set. Here he alludes to various elements in Bellocs character with his praise of English beer and Sussex, coupled with other prejudices. The Bachelor, a setting of 1922, praises the state of the young man who is unmarried, in words from the fifteenth century. For Away to Twiver of 1926 Warlock takes words from The Famous Historie of Friar Bacon, the source in part of the Elizabethan play by Robert Grene. The cheerful, rollicking mood is continued in the setting of John Masefields Captain Strattons Fancy, in which rum rather than beer is lauded. Peter Warlocks Fancy, written in 1924, is a comparable drinking-song, but it is in Mr Bellocs Fancy and Captain Strattons Fancy that Warlock wrote what he described as Two True Topers Tunes, to Troll with Trulls and Trollopes in a Tavern, echoes of ideas and assumed prejudices popular in some circles at the time.