"I am determined to live my life, to drain its cup to the very dregs, to live each day, each hour, feverishly perhaps just now – I am absolutely ravenous for life: what I do matters not so very much, as long as I live!" -Peter Warlock
And "live" Warlock did indeed, in the sense that he did drain his cup of life to the very dregs, living every minute, not hour-'feverishly' I'd say. Warlock was a highly eccentric and fascinating character, and although he "burned the candles at both ends", his life was cut tragically short at the age of 36.
Peter Warlock was born, magnificently, in London's Savoy Hotel under the fractionally less magnificent birth name Philip Heseltine, on October 30th, 1894. He came from a well-to-do family of stockbrokers, solicitors, and art connoisseurs. Warlock's father died when he was only two, and he had a close, at times claustrophobic relationship with his mother (his domineering mother, Edith Covernton, had Welsh connections and Warlock was to have strong ties with Wales throughout his life). In 1903 she married Walter Buckley Jones and mother and son moved to Wales. At preparatory school his interest in music was awakened through the pianola; his education continued at Eton where his musical interests were encouraged by a sympathetic piano teacher, Colin Taylor. It was Taylor who in 1911 obtained permission for him to attend a concert of Delius's music, an event which was to have a lasting effect on his life. Warlock's interest in Delius's music had begun as early as 1909 and, by the time of his first meeting with Delius at that concert in 1911, he had already become obsessed, something close to a mania-for Delius and his works in general. From then on a quite remarkable friendship developed between the two men and for the next seven years Delius was Warlock's mentor as well as a regular correspondent for the rest of his life.
Although it had been presumed that Warlock would follow in the family footsteps and work in either the Stock Exchange or Civil Service, there was a certain indecision about his immediate future and, on finishing school, he spent a few months in Cologne, studying German and the piano. These musical studies, however, proved unsuccessful and, resigned to a non-musical career, he entered Oxford in October 1913 to read for a degree in classics. Dissatisfied and unhappy, he left after only one year and for a short while enrolled as a student at the University of London, but this second attempt at a University career was even shorter lived than his first. In February 1915 he secured an appointment as music critic on the staff of the Daily Mail though he soon found the work frustrating and lasted in the position for barely four months. One of his early interests was Elizabethan literature and now, finding himself unemployed, he spent time in the British Museum editing early music.
Warlock’s enthusiasms were as tempestuous as his disdain, and the flip side of that antsy vitality of the opening quote was the crippling despair to which he would periodically succumb. He conducted vituperative public feuds, writing obscene limericks about his enemies which he at one stage actuality anthologized on a toilet roll.
In 1915 he met D. H. Lawrence whose work he admired, soon finding himself part of the author's circle and planning a utopian settlement in America. At the beginning of 1916 Warlock, a conscientious objector, followed Lawrence to Cornwall and involved himself in an unsuccessful venture to publish Lawrence's books. The friendship between the two men, however, proved highly volatile, and the ensuing rift brought out each man's scatological qualities: "Heseltine ought to be flushed down a sewer", said Lawrence, "for he is a simple shit". Warlock, meanwhile, used an original Lawrence manuscript as toilet paper. (he clearly fancied tp)
Soon after Warlock's return to London he met the composer and critic, Cecil Gray, and the two soon became close friends, sharing a 'bohemian' existence in Battersea. Together they planned a number of grandiose schemes by which to bring about the 'regeneration' of music in England. Warlock's meeting in June 1916 with the enigmatic, Anglo-Dutch composer Bernard van Dieren also had a profound effect on him and he now became an enthusiastic champion of his music. In November 1916, "Philip" published his first musical article (about Eugene Goosens) and then used, for the first time, the pseudonym, Peter Warlock.
Having in the meantime married an artists' model, Minnie Lucy Channing ('Puma'), who had earlier borne him a son, Warlock returned to Cornwall for a brief while in April 1917 and, outwardly, at least, resumed cordial, if distant, relations with Lawrence. What he did not know was that Lawrence was at the time writing Women in Love in which he and Puma were being introduced as two unattractive characters. When in 1921 he learnt that the book was to be published, he threatened legal action and Lawrence was forced to rewrite certain passages.
Instead of settling in Cornwall Warlock became alarmed at the renewed possibility of military conscription and in August 1917 fled to Dublin where he remained for the next year. During this period he became involved in certain occult practices which Gray claimed were psychologically damaging. This 'Irish' year was, nevertheless, a very positive and productive one, marked by a sudden surge of remarkable artistic productivity when, in the space of a fortnight, he wrote ten songs, some of which rank amongst his finest compositions. In August 1918 he returned to England and sent seven of these recently composed songs to the publisher Winthrop Rogers, again using the pseudonym Peter Warlock, for he realized that the name Heseltine was already being regarded with suspicion and hostility by the London musical fraternity. Given also its occult associations, the choice of name is significant. It was from this time on that he became more and more involved in a number of "public and private quarrels" which were to occur throughout his life, along with certain strange behaviors..at times (bohemian chatter included Warlock stripping in Piccadilly Circus, tearing naked through quiet village lanes on his motorbike, or conducting what British tabloids referred to as "three-in-a-bed romps").
In 1920, Rogers decided to reorganize a magazine which he owned, The Organist and Choirmaster, into something of more general interest. Accordingly "The Sackbut" was launched with Warlock as editor. Between May 1920 and March 1921 nine issues appeared and included a varied amount of material much of which was of a controversial nature. However, just as The Sackbut was beginning to succeed, Rogers, nervous of the contentious material, withdrew his financial backing, Curwen took over the publication, and an embittered Warlock was relieved of the editorship.
After this debacle an impecunious Warlock moved back to the family home in Wales where he lived almost continuously for the next three years. Here he completed a book on Delius, made a number of arrangements of Delius's works, transcribed an enormous quantity of early music and also composed a large number of original songs, completing in June of 1922 his acknowledged masterpiece, the song-cycle, "The Curlew".
During these years Warlock wrote a study of Gesualdo, a book entitled "The English Ayre", continued with his early music transcriptions, and also produced a slowly decreasing number of original compositions, including some fine songs and perhaps his best known piece, the "Capriol Suite". Having felt a slow drying up of his creative abilities, he was more than grateful when Thomas Beecham invited him to edit a magazine as part of a new operatic venture and to help in the organization of the Delius Festival held in October 1929. The festival itself was a great success but by the beginning of 1930 Beecham's venture had collapsed and Warlock was once again out of work.
Life became bleaker as the year 1930 progressed and there seemed to be little demand for his songs, if indeed the inspiration or will to compose was still there. Black moods of depression settled more frequently and he was found dead, of gas-poisoning, in his flat in Chelsea on the morning of December 17th, 1930. At the inquest the coroner recorded an open verdict as there was insufficient evidence on which to decide whether death was the result of suicide, or accident. Many people believe it was a suicide driven by his manic-depression, which I think is correct.
Warlock left more than his music behind. Seven months after his death, one of his mistresses, Jessica Goldblatt, gave birth to a son. That boy grew up to be one of Britain’s most high-profile art critics, Brian Sewell.
|Philip Heseltine/Peter Warlock|
In 1588 a book on dance was published under the title "Orchésographie et traité en forme de dialogue par lequel toutes personnes peuvent facilement apprendre et pratiquer l’honnête exercice des dances". A nice short name. The name of the author, Thoinot Arbeau, was in fact an anagram of his real name, Jehan Tabourot, but since he was a canon of the cathedral at Langres it was probably politic not to publish a work on such a secular entertainment as dance under his own name. As in many text books of the period the material is presented in the form of a dialogue, in this case between Arbeau and Capriol, a lawyer. This explains Warlock's choice of name for his Suite 'based on dance tunes from Arbeau's Orchésographie'. In 1925 Cyril Beaumont published an English translation of Arbeau's book, in which the musical illustrations were transcribed by Warlock, who also provided an informative preface on the dance tunes of the period. In October 1927 Warlock produced his Suite based on a selection of these tunes.
Respighi had published the first of his collections of Ancient Airs and Dances in 1917. These attractive pieces are in essence the original dance tunes harmonized in sixteenth-century style, but dressed up in full twentieth-century orchestrations. Versions for piano solo (needing large hands) were also available. The approach can be compared with that of Elgar or Henry Wood orchestrating works by Bach for full orchestra, or Busoni arranging his organ works for modern grand piano. Capriol has quite a different effect, being both simpler and more original. Though, as will be seen, the movements are based closely on Arbeau, much of the harmony is clear Warlock, and he is not afraid to add counterpoint, descants and codas.
"Base Danse" - This dance had already gone out of fashion in Arbeau’s day, but he includes it in the hope that it may be revived by ‘modest matrons’. It was stately, and the feet were not raised but glided over the floor, hence the name. Warlock follows Arbeau exactly, three melodies, each repeated, followed by a repeat of the first section, though Warlock has a short coda instead of Arbeau’s fourth tune. Each repetition is harmonized and/or orchestrated differently.
"Pavane" - Another stately dance which had taken the place of the basse danse, and was usually followed by the more lively galliard. Arbeau printed this melody in its four-part vocal form, and Warlock, after establishing the dance drum-beat gives this four-part version almost unaltered. He then repeats it with Arbeau’s tenor as a descant; however, the final phrase is given new harmony, as if to show there is a new composer present on the scene.
"Tordion" - This started life as the concluding, slighter faster, figure of the basse danse. Warlock speeds up Arbeau’s tune and lightens each repetition to such an extent that the music almost disappears.
"Bransles", originally a country round dance, was taken into aristocratic circles, and it was still danced at the court of Charles II. The longest movement in the suite, Warlock uses no fewer than five of Arbeau's tunes, gradually gathering pace until the music reaches its brilliant cross-rhythm conclusion.
"Pieds-en-l’air" - Only the first phrase appears in Arbeau, developed by Warlock into a wonderfully flowing four-phrase melody, repeated with new harmonies and given a typical slow Warlock final cadence.
"Mattachins" - The first half of the movement sets out one of Arbeau's variants of the "Air des Bouffons". The second half has no melody, being a series of discordant clashes between concentrated bodies of the strings, sounding more like Bartók than any British composer. (Warlock knew Bartók well, and admired his music.) It clearly derives from the fact that this was a sword dance, and likely very noisy!
|Warlock relaxing...on a barrel|
The first version of "The Curlew" was performed in 1920 and consisted of five settings of poems by W B Yeats. In 1922, in Wales, Warlock reconsidered the work. He dropped the original third and fourth songs, substituting the present long and complex third song. It was published in this revised form in 1922, receiving an award from the Carnegie Trust.
The substantial introduction opens with the cor anglais giving out the cry of the curlew, taken over by the viola. This is followed by the rocking theme on the strings also used in the Serenade. The flute then has the peewit’s call, with its many repeated notes. After a brief climax the rocking theme returns, then a cello solo leads into the first song. This passionate outburst is succeeded by a short interlude based on the introductory material. The second song is self-contained; it appeared in both versions of The Curlew, and was probably written about 1916. After the next interlude, a recitative for cor anglais and some development of the rocking theme, comes the new song, a setting of Yeats's The withering of the boughs, with three strongly contrasted verses, each ending with the words which could be considered the core of the cycle: "The boughs have withered because I have told them my dreams".
The final interlude is dominated by chords built up from piles of fourths, and more flute calls. This leads into the last song, virtually unaccompanied, until the viola ends the work with a modified inversion of the cor anglais opening phrase, subsiding onto an empty, hopeless, bare fifth with the cello. Exceptional music-making.
The "Serenade for Strings" is dedicated "to Frederick Delius on his sixtieth birthday". Delius gave Warlock much encouragement when he was making his first attempts at composition, and in return Warlock made many arrangements of Delius's music and helped to organize concerts of his work. It is natural that a work with such a dedication should show many influences from the older composer. However, there are many passages that are pure Warlock, particularly a rocking figure on lower strings very similar to the opening string passage in The Curlew. Both works were composed between 1920 and 1922 at Cefn Bryntalch, the family home in Wales. Though on first hearing the Serenade may seem as vague as one of Delius's rhapsodies, further hearings show it to be clearly organized. There are some four sections of related but distinct melodic material, the fourth being the rocking figure mentioned above. After a brief climax combining some of this material there is a varied recapitulation, ending with a brief coda.
*I see that I inadvertently left a space between the dot and the file extension "zip". So, should you have a problem opening it, simply delete the extra space so it is .zip, not ". zip"