Monthly Archives: May 2014

Guest blog: David Shapiro, Friend of Music in the Round, on Ivor Gurney

David Shapiro, Friend of Music in the Round and guest blogger, talks about a recent discussion group meeting that focused on the poet and composer Ivor Gurney


Ivor Gurney

At the suggestion of Music in the Round, a small group of Friends formed a music discussion group. We’ve been meeting every couple of months for lively and informal discussions of chamber music.  Sometimes we talk about music to be performed in an upcoming concert, listening together to recordings of the works. Or we hear an informal presentation on a related topic.

Our most recent discussion was about the poet and composer Ivor Gurney, in anticipation of the concert At the Front on 17th May with pre-concert talk by Tim Kendall.

“I knew little of Gurney, and was eager to learn from others in the group more familiar with his work.”

Jane Clements, who had sung Gurney’s songs, introduced us to Severn Meadows, the only published setting by Gurney of his own words, and played recordings of By a Bierside, In Flanders, and Sleep. Jane found a similar relationship between voice and piano as in Schubert’s songs. Geographer Margaret Roberts brought along a recent book by her colleague and friend Eleanor Rawling: Ivor Gurney’s Gloucestershire: Exploring Poetry and Place.  Writer and creative writing teacher Liz Cashdan shared her responses to some of Gurney’s poems, noting for example the musicality of their rhythms, reflecting the influence of Gerard Manley Hopkins. We talked about Gurney’s experience of the Great War, including both comradeship and trauma. As a retired clinical psychologist, I was drawn to speculate about the nature and origins of the mental health problems that resulted in his long-term hospitalisation, during which he wrote many fine poems, long unpublished. By coincidence, Tim Kendall’s BBC4 programme, Ivor Gurney, the poet who loved the war, went out that evening so we watched it together.

“It was exciting to bring together our disparate strands of insight into Gurney’s music and poetry.”

Music in the Round’s concerts have informed my lifelong musical learning for 30 years, extending and challenging my appreciation of a widening repertoire. The discussion group adds a new dimension, as I learn from fellow audience-members, some of whom I thought I knew quite well, things I didn’t know they knew.  This can only deepen the bonds amongst us.   These bonds add to the intense quality of shared concentration we’ve been said to communicate to the musicians playing for us in the Studio.   Music in the Round plays a big part in all our lives.

David Shapiro


Visit our website for more details of the At the Front concert on Thursday 15 May at 7.15pm, featuring music and songs by Schumann, Barber, Butterworth and Gurney, performed by Matthew Brook (baritone), Anna Markland (piano) and Ensemble 360.


Ivor Gurney and the poetry of the First World War

By Tim Kendall

One of the anthologist’s greatest pleasures comes from discovering previously unknown pieces to jostle with the familiar classics. Editing The Poetry of the First World War, I knew that I should need to accommodate ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, ‘The Soldier’, and ‘For the Fallen’. Whatever their qualities, these have become so inextricably part of our understanding that to omit them would be perverse. Yet I wanted to believe that other poems, no less worthy, have been unfairly neglected, either because they tell the kinds of truths which we are unwilling to hear (such as that war can occasionally be enjoyable or exhilarating), or because they have endured the simple bad luck of never having been brought to public attention. This was, after all, a literary War, and poetry was produced in such quantities that the good sometimes sank with the mediocre and the inept.

No war poet better illustrates this fact than Ivor Gurney (1890-1937). Gurney fought in the War with the Gloucesters. He was shot, he was gassed, he was invalidated out, and he spent the last fifteen years of his life from 1922 in the City of London asylum at Dartford, suffering from acute schizophrenia. Gurney was an accomplished composer before he was ever a poet, and his music is regularly performed. He started writing poetry during the War, publishing Severn & Somme in 1917 and War’s Embers in 1919. These were perfectly good books, but with few exceptions they demonstrated no unusual talent. Only after the War, and particularly in the early asylum years, did Gurney become a great poet. Writing with unprecedented intensity—sometimes producing the equivalent of four books of poetry in a single month—Gurney returned to war experiences as a way of escaping the misery of his incarceration. Idiosyncratic and often gauche, these poems were nevertheless stamped with the peculiarity of genius. But publishers showed no interest. Gurney wrote over a thousand poems between 1922 and 1927, the vast majority of which remain unpublished to this day.

Stokes trench mortar with team. Group of soldiers posing with a trench mortar, Salonika, taken by Capt Philip Rolls Asprey, whilst serving with 2nd Bn The Buffs (East Kent Regiment), nd, 1916 © National Army Museum.

I have included several new poems by Gurney in the anthology. One of my favourites, which he wrote in 1925, has languished amongst his papers at the Gloucestershire Archives until now:

The Stokes Gunners
When Fritz and we were nearly on friendly terms—
Of mornings, furtively, (O moral insects, O worms!)
A group of khaki people would saunter into
Our sector and plant a stove-pipe directed on to
Fritz trenches, insert black things, shaped like Ticklers jams—
The stove pipe hissed a hundred times and one might count to
A hundred damned unexpected explosions,
Which was all very well, but the group having finished performance
And hissed and whistled, would take their contrivance down to
Head quarters to report damage, and hand in forms
While the Gloucesters who desired peace or desired battle
Were left to pay the piper—Cursing Stokes to Hell, Montreal and Seattle.

The Stokes Mortar was the latest thing in military technology. Introduced during the second half of the War, it had the great virtue of being portable—a modestly-sized artillery gun which could fire more than twenty rounds per minute. Gurney’s hostility to its arrival in his part of the line can best be explained by his fellow poet Charles Sorley’s comment several years earlier: ‘For either side to bomb the other would be a useless violation of the unwritten laws that govern the relations of combatants permanently within a hundred yards of distance of each other, who have found out that to provide discomfort for the other is but a roundabout way of providing it for themselves’. Small wonder that Gurney should denounce as ‘moral insects’ those form-filling jobsworths who bring down the enemy’s wrath onto the Gloucesters’ heads.

In war anthologies, we have heard little of this humour. Gurney’s is not the voice of heroic derring-do, nor of the officer pleading the sufferings of his men or denouncing High Command as incompetent or callous. Gurney offers us the common private who wants to be no more courageous than strictly necessary in achieving his ambition to survive the War. The poem befits a remark which Gurney made of his fellow Gloucesters when he reported that they sang ‘I Want to Go Home’ while under heavy artillery bombardment. ‘It is not a brave song’, he acknowledged, ‘but brave men sing it’.

Tim Kendall will be giving a pre-concert talk on Ivor Gurney’s achievements with reference to other First World War poets and taking part in a post-concert Q&A session with baritone Matthew Brook and Angus Smith on Thursday 15 May 2014, as part of our Love & War Festival of Chamber Music. Both events are free to ticket holders for the 7.15pm concert At The Front, for more info about the concert visit our website.

Tim Kendall has taught at the universities of Oxford, Newcastle, and Bristol before becoming Professor and Head of English at the University of Exeter. His new book is Poetry of the First World War: An Anthology. His other publications include Modern English War Poetry (OUP, 2006), and The Oxford Handbook of British and Irish War Poetry (ed.) (OUP, 2007), and he is writing the VSI on War Poetry (forthcoming, 2014). He is also co-editor of the Complete Literary Works of Ivor Gurney, (forthcoming, OUP).

– This blog post was originally published on the Oxford University Press blog.

Image credit: Stokes trench mortar with team. Group of soldiers posing with a trench mortar, Salonika, taken by Capt Philip Rolls Asprey, whilst serving with 2nd Bn The Buffs (East Kent Regiment), nd, 1916 © National Army Museum. – See more at:

Music from the time of the civil wars, or the wars of the three kingdoms

Fretwork musician Richard Boothby sets the scene for their Sheffield concert on 13 May

The Fretwork musicians

The Fretwork musicians

War and music are not happy bedfellows, and the immense and complex struggle which took place in Britain and Ireland between 1640 and 1651 is not an exception to that rule.

The conflict had profound effects on the musical life of the nations and most of all, on that of England. One of the most noticeable was the decentralisation of musical establishments and composers: where, before the war, musical life had been concentrated in London on the royal court, the dispersal of the court and the uncongenial nature of the city to musicians during and after the war meant that many fled the capital and rid out the conflict in remote parts of the country.

England had known an exceptionally long period of peace and prosperity since the accession of Elizabeth I in 1558, through her long reign, the peaceful accession of James V of Scotland and I of England, and the passing on of the crown to his son, Charles I in 1625. But, while Elizabeth had been abstemious and relatively moderate in her expenditure, James was used to a much more pliant Scottish parliament, and spent money immoderately and passed this unfortunate characteristic on to his son.

Of course, what was to be ruinous for the monarchy was rather good news for musicians employed by the court: James’s eldest son, the much lauded Prince Henry, built up an
avant-garde musical establishment employing the best composers and players of the day: Coprario, Lupo, Ferrabosco and Gibbons were all writing stimulating, advanced music, and, when Henry unexpectedly died in 1612, this establishment was taken over by Henry’s brother, the much less confident Charles.

It is claimed that Charles himself could play ‘exactly well’ on the bass viol, and that he was taught the instrument by Giovanni Coprario – who started life as plain old John Cooper, until a trip to Italy turned his head – and that he and a young William Lawes, only 2 years his junior, learnt the instrument together. Lawes was certainly close to the king, but his consorts of five and six parts were not composed until the 1630s, when Charles’s difficulties with parliament were coming to a head. It seems he must have stopped composing by 1642 in order to devote himself to the royalist cause. His end came in September 1645 at the siege of Chester, where he was shot in a skirmish. The king dubbed him ‘The Father of English Music’.


Most musicians were going to be on the royalist side in this war: it was where they were most likely to gain employment. Matthew Locke, a generation younger than Lawes, was a boy treble in Exeter Cathedral (his carving ‘Mathew Lock 1638’ was recently rediscovered in the cathedral organ loft – above) and was conscripted into the royalist army there, to leave with the king for France and the Netherlands in 1648. He came back to England a Catholic and spent the Commonwealth in London contributing much music to plays and publishing his ‘Little Consort of Three Parts’. By the Restoration in 1660, he was England’s leading composer. While it’s not clear when his ‘Consorts of Fower Parts’ were written, they represent music of the old style brought to a modern and elegant perfection. Charles II was famously intolerant of music he couldn’t tap his foot to: Roger North said he had ‘an utter detestation of Fancys’, which suggests that his consort music was written during the Interregnum.

The one composer who seemed to thrive in all circumstances was John Hingeston, who studied with Orlando Gibbons and became Cromwell’s Master of Music. His ‘Protectorate Household’, established in 1654, was similar to the royal court, and where Hingeston had a band of 8 musicians and two boys. At the Restoration, he was appointed a viol player in the King’s Private Music and taught a young Henry Purcell.

YouTube: Music by William Lawes, performed by Fretwork

Simpson was a contemporary of Lawes, though he avoided a violent end, and thus lived through the war, the Interregnum and the Restoration. But he did fight on the royalist side early in the war, retiring to Scampton in Lincolnshire at the house of Sir Robert Bolles, a friend and patron. He was without doubt the most prominent virtuoso viol player of the age and wrote the first and best viol tutor published in English. John Jenkins was similarly an exceptional viol player, patronised by the great families of the nation, in particular the Derham and L’Estrange families of Norfolk. He thus was able to avoid the dangers of the war and at its end he was with the North family in Cambridgeshire. By the Restoration he was a venerable elder statesman of English music and lived on until the ripe age of 86. He wonderfully crafted consorts for 4, 5 & 6 viols are examples of a mature style that he created, extending the techniques of Byrd, Coprario and Ferrabosco.

Another immensely long-lived composer of the age was Thomas Tomkins, surely one of the greatest of all Welsh composers, born in St Davids. He was appointed to the Chapel Royal in 1620, and was friends and colleagues with Gibbons, Byrd, Coprario, though he also retained a position in Worcester Cathedral. As the war began to take its toll on court life, he retired here. In 1646 the town surrendered to Parliamentary forces and cathedral services were suspended. His famous ‘Sad Pavan for these distracted times’ is dated 14th February 1649, a fortnight after the execution of the king. He lived in the cathedral close until 1654, when he moved to the nearby village of Martin Hussingtree, where he died aged 82.

Richard Boothby will be performing with the internationally renowned viol consort, Fretwork, as part of our Love and War Festival of World Class Chamber Music on Tuesday 13 May at 7.15pm. A version of this article is featured in our Festival Souvenir Programme, available to buy throughout the Festival for £3.50.

The musicians will also be taking part in a Q&A session with our Artistic Director, Angus Smith, free to all concert ticket holders.

For more information about the concert, visit our website.

Guest blog: singer Carol on One Equal Music


I spend so much of my time encouraging other people to sing that it’s wonderful to find an opportunity to sing myself, especially under Angus’ expert direction. In Sunday’s rehearsal he really put everyone at ease, and helped us to feel comfortable with the music.

It was a lovely surprise to start moving around the cathedral during the Gorecki! It worked brilliantly, bringing the sound alive. When this moment comes around in the concert, the audience will be totally absorbed by it. It really helps to bring the music off the page.

The rehearsal inspired me to go straight home and do some practice!

I came all the way from Buxton because you don’t often get the opportunity to take part in music of this calibre. You’ve got to take the chance when it comes up.

In my day-to-day life I spend time thinking about the practicalities of teaching repertoire and singing technique to my singers, so it came as welcome reminder to find myself in the vulnerable position of a choir member who is feeling insecure about singing particular phrases.  I hope it will remind me to be more tolerant and patient as I try to build singers’ confidence.

Above all, being one of over 60 singers who were prepared to give up precious leisure time on a Sunday afternoon, I felt part of our wonderful community of choral enthusiasts who share their love of wonderful music.


Carol Bowns is a freelance musician based in Derbyshire who spends her time enthusing, training, and developing singers. She leads Kaleidoscope Community Choir, directs The Tideswell Singers, and creates passenger choirs on cruise ships – amongst much else!

The One Equal Music concert features a programme of music, both ancient and modern, for choir and string quartet, and takes place at Sheffield Cathedral on Sunday 11 May at 6.30pm. Further details at