Saturday, 13 June 2009

Ivor Gurney: A Tribute by Sir J.C. Squire

Squire wrote:-
"In a book I recently wrote, there occurred these words in relation to Sir Charles Stanford: -
Stanford knew that there were greater musicians about than himself, and was handsome to and about his abler pupils. He told me that one of them, whom I knew, was perhaps the most promising composer alive. I thought to myself that there was something both of Beethoven and of Mozart about him. That referred to Ivor Gurney: I didn't mention his name because I was not by way of mentioning my friends without their permission. But it shall be mentioned now.

I have known composers with a fine literary sense and poets who loved music but could neither compose nor play. I have known no man save Gurney who had the double creative gift that Rossetti had in his two arts. His poems are few, young and troubled by war; but they are full of the promise of maturity. The practice of the art has made him all the more sensitive to the quality of the lyrics which he set as songs. He has never set bad words; he found good and suitable words amongst the living (for he had the desire to collaborate with the living poets as did the Elizabethans and Lawes and his successors) all too few; to-day he might find them still fewer.

What he might have done in the symphonic way, had he chosen that, I do not know; he has passion, power, architecture and a mastery of composition. I do know, however, having heard so many of them (and most of them, I think, remain unpublished),[1] that his songs are masterly and should be familiar everywhere - from the simple lilting melody he made to Bridges's 'Since thou, O fondest and truest' [2] to the august, forest-haunted, vagrantly modern setting of Edward Thomas's 'Lights Out',[3] which I think one of the finest songs ever written.
I suppose it will all come to light some day. But the best in the arts still have the old struggle.

J. C. Squire Music & Letters Volume 19 No. 1 January1938 pp. 7-12

Sir John Squire (John Collings Squire) (April 2, 1884 – December 20, 1958) was a British poet, writer, historian, and literary editor of the post-World War I period. He moved in society circles and was loosely associated with the British Union of Fascists by way of the January Club. He later eschewed some of the views espoused by these organisaitons.

[1] This is still the case: although a fair number have been published, the vast majority still remain in manuscript. Many are unworthy of the composer at his best.
[2]As far as my records tell, the Bridges’s song has yet to be recorded.
[3] Lights Out is currently available on Severn & Somme – Songs by Gurney, Howells, Sanders Venables and Wilson. Somm 57


Karen said...

Thank you for sharing this, John. It speaks volumes when someone from an artist's own time makes comments like that. We get to know the person more intimately and more realistically -- he is in the moment.


John France said...

Yes, Pam, I agree that this kind of contemporary opinion can be very interesting and helpful.