An introduction to Peter Warlock
A brief overview of his life and works
Philip Heseltine / Peter Warlock, a man of many inter-connected but diverse talents was born in the Savoy Hotel, London, on 30 October 1894. His death on 17 December 1930 at 30 Tite Street, Chelsea is marked by a plaque there. His education fitted his family’s status: Stone House, Broadstairs (1904 – 1908), Eton (1908 – 1911), Christ Church, Oxford (1913 – 1914), and University College, London (Michaelmas 1914 – one term).
Largely influenced by other composers – Delius, van Dieren, Quilter, and Bartók – he had little formal training. A deep poetic insight prompted particular sympathies for Yeats, Robert Nichols (a friend), the Elizabethans (especially Shakespeare) and, at the end of his life, Bruce Blunt. A strong Celtic affinity caused him to study Cornish, Welsh, Irish, Manx and Breton.
His musical activities fall fairly tidily into three periods. After a contemplative year in Ireland c.1917-18, early mature works (such as Corpus Christi, As dew in Aprylle and My gostly fader) were written between 1918-20 whereafter composing briefly gave way to journalism. He edited The Sackbut from 1920/21 and wrote, inter alia, articles on Elizabethan song, Hungarian music, and chromaticism. He continued to promote Delius’s music, transcribing some of that composer’s work for piano as well as writing the Serenade, a 60th birthday tribute. Travels in north Africa and Europe reached Budapest; he met Bartók, plans for whose London début were initiated.
The next three years, the most settled and prolific of his life, centred on Cefn-Bryntalch, his family home in Wales. He finished The Curlew, produced some of his finest songs (such as the Lillygay cycle), made numerous transcriptions of early music and completed a biography of Delius (Bodley Head 1923) still thought significant.
In 1925 he moved to Eynsford, Kent. Three years there were the last really fruitful ones. He wrote (with Cecil Gray) a study of Gesualdo, more piano songs (the Belloc pieces, Cradle Song, Robin Goodfellow, etc.) and choral settings of Webster and others. Back in London he edited MILO and organised the 1929 Delius Festival with Sir Thomas Beecham. Friendship with the poet Bruce Blunt inspired a few pieces (including The Fox, and The Frostbound Wood) among the best British music of that era.
In under two decades, he wrote about 150 songs, two dozen part-songs, a dozen items of vocal chamber music, and half a dozen instrumental works as well as 600 transcriptions, some vast undertakings. Journalism – books, articles, prefaces, reviews, and programme notes – amounts to c.300,000 words.
THE PETER WARLOCK SOCIETY
The music of Peter Warlock
The music of Peter Warlock
You may wish to read our introduction to Warlock’s Music – or go straight to the in-depth article.