The Occasional Writings Of Philip Heseltine

First published: 1997, Thames Publishing

The Occasional Writings Of Philip Heseltine

By Barry Smith

Volume 1: Musical Criticism

As well as being a highly individual composer in his own right, and a pioneer editor of early music, Philip Heseltine (Peter Warlock) did much else in his short life (1894 – 1930). He was a prolific journalist and commentator on music, and this is the first of four books (the other three will be issued in 1998) which bring together all his occasional writings.

The series is being edited by Barry Smith, author of a much praised biography of Warlock, and this first volume includes, amongst other material, all his articles for the outspoken magazine The Sackbut, of which he was editor for a short period. These concert reviews, articles and letters show his acutely receptive and combative mind at its most wide-ranging. His enviable skill with words allows him to be consistently penetrating and incisive, with an occasional vein of humour to sweeten the pill.


The first of four projected volumes, this is a very welcome collection, edited by Barry Smith the author of what is now the “standard” biography of Peter Warlock. Here we have all 69 of Heseltine’s shorter writings on music, including those in newspapers, his reviews and his letters to the press. These include his contributions to The Sackbut (16 items, all but two dating from 1920) and MILO (three items), neither title particularly easy to find. Then there are the 33 reviews he wrote for The Daily Mail in the first half of 1915 and items for six other journals. We can look forward to the longer articles in a later volume.

This is enjoyable as a straight read, for Heseltine’s often mordant commentary is entertaining in its own right, but all collections of such material are valuable to those studying their period, and all interested in British music – indeed modern music – in the 1920’s will find this illuminating. (Malcolm MacDonald’s edition of the Havergal Brian writings on British music, published in 1986, were a case in point, though they covered a much wider time-span.) Heseltine is particularly rewarding for his much narrower subject and date range, and for his championship of modern music, particularly Bartók. The vivid snapshot of London musical activity in 1915, painted in Heseltine’s Daily Mail reviews, was well worth doing on its own account, and shows us a surprisingly lively and active scene. I is also particularly useful to have an index to this material.

Barry Smith contributes a short but informative introduction, sketching earlier attempts to collect Heseltine’s writings. The articles are only lightly annotated, and from time to time one wishes the editor could have provided more background or details of, say, an unfamiliar name. But for all that this is going to become a valuable and much used source book, particularly when all four volumes are available.

By Lewis Foreman

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