<< -- 2 -- Roderic Dunnett IVOR GURNEY IN BUCKINGHAMSHIRE
Gurney's sojourn in Buckinghamshire also saw him embarking on his most
fertile period of composition. He worked on a violin sonata (his third,
of an eventual seven of sorts; two violin pieces, The Apple Orchard
and Scherzo, were completed shortly beforehand), a symphony, an orchestral
War Elegy, and a string quartet in F major (perhaps the 'Brahms effect'
was working), the manuscript of which is clearly signed in his own hand
'High Wycombe, l9l9'.
Trying them out on the Chapmans' little French 'Bord' upright piano at
St Michaels (the name of their home, on which in May 2001 a plaque was unveiled
in his honour; the piano, still extant, was recently reacquired by the family),
Gurney composed a number of his best songs, including 'The Singer' (to words
by Edward Shanks), 'Desire in Spring' (Francis Ledwidge), 'Far in Western
Brookland' (A E Housman), the exquisite 'Down by the Salley Gardens' (W
B Yeats), and several settings of John Masefield, whom he and a friend visited
in Oxford so as to sing them to their author. He basked in the modest success
of his second Great War poetry collection, War's Embers, published
that year, plus performances of his songs and the early signs of publishers'
interest. And he composed a sequence of Piano Preludes (to be published
soon, many for the first time, in a collection edited by Jennifer Partridge
for Thames Publishing in conjunction with the Ivor Gurney Society; the Gamut
CD recording by the late Alan Gravill is now a collector's item), which
are amongst the most appealing of the lesser-known Gurney.
Perhaps the loveliest of the Piano Preludes, that in D flat major, dated
'High Wycombe, Autumn l9l9', was dedicated 'to Mrs Chapman'. It was to St
Michaels, the Victorian semi-detached family home of Matilda and Edward
Chapman, and their four children -- three girls (Kitty, Winnie and the youngest,
Marjorie, or 'Micky') and a boy (Arthur) -- on Castle Hill (now renamed The
Greenway) that Gurney used to make his way regularly after choir practices
and services as a young student in l9l4-5, and again in l9l9, and to which
he repaired time and again, by day and long into the night, for laughter,
merriment, meals, pipesmoking, books, music, philosophising and chat, garden
cricket and wild games of 'ping-pong' (table tennis), from his London digs
and later from humble lodgings at nearby Queen's Road.
Copyright © 17 July 2001
Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK
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