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<<  -- 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.

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Copyright © 17 July 2001 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK






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