Friday, 17 March 2017

Beyond the music: a further look at the poetry of Ivor Gurney

Ivor Gurney
Ivor Gurney
For this article I continue looking at the poet and composer, Ivor Gurney, four of whose poems are part of my song cycle Four Songs to Texts by Ivor Gurney which, performed by Johnny Herford and William Vann, is on our new disc Quickening: Songs to texts by English and Welsh poets for which we are currently crowd funding

You can read the first part of the article on this blog, in this second part I look at the four poems which I have set, Song, Requiem, To his love and Song and Pain.

After being gassed in 1917, Ivor Gurney was sent to the Edinburgh War Hospital where he met and fell in love with the nurse Annie Drummond and though there is a suggestion that they became engaged, the relationship failed for reasons which are not known for certain. Ivor Gurney wrote Song, 'My heart makes songs on lonely roads /to comfort me while you are away' for Annie at the height of his relationship with her.

In July 1917, Gurney had had his first book of poems accepted for publication, this was Severn and Somme. Requiem comes from this collection, and here we are firmly in the realm of Somme:

Pour out your light, O stars, and do not hold
Your loveliest shining from earth's outworn shell -
Pure and cold your radiance, pure and cold
My dead friend's face as well.

With To his love we continue in the realm of the Somme with Gurney re-creating the shock of the death of a comrade, interleaving references to the war with remembrances of happier times in Gloucestershire:

He's gone and all our plans
     are useless indeed.
We'll walk no more on Cotswold
     where the sheep feed
     quietly and take no heed.

The final song in the group Song and Pain returns to poems from Severn and Somme, with the final verse achieving a measure of transcendence:

Some day, I trust, God's purpose of pain for me
shall be complete,
And then to enter in the house of joy...
Prepare, my feet.

Quickening: Songs to Texts by English and Welsh Poets comes out on the Navona Records label in the Autumn and features my settings of poems by Ivor Gurney, AE Housman, Christina Rossetti and Rowan Williams. Please do support our crowd-funding.

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