Music In The Great War - Ivor Gurney (1890-1938)

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01The Young Genius20140630

Donald Macleod explains how Ivor Gurney discoved his passion for music.

Gurney discovers his passion for music

It's a story that begins full of possibility and hope; Gurney was one of the brightest musical lights of his generation. He imagined himself as Schubert's heir; a fresh, young genius who's music and poetry would revolutionise British society. Donald Macleod discovers how that early promise came to fruition and then unravelled, as Gurney struggled with the horrors of World War One and serious mental illness. Gurney expert, Dr Kate Kennedy, joins Donald to uncover the man behind the tragedy and explore the art he produced in the face of enormous adversity. Much of Gurney's output is still rarely performed, and several works have been specially recorded for these programmes.

Ivor Gurney grew up in the shadow of Gloucester Cathedral and, at the age of nine, he became a chorister there. Gurney would go on to compose a number of choral works, although none have ever been recorded until now. 'The Trumpet' has its broadcast premiere in today's programme. After Gurney's voice had broken, he took up the organ. He had lessons at the cathedral, where his fellow students included Herbert Howells, and Ivor Novello. Soon, Gurney's talents landed him an opportunity to study at the Royal College of Music. Just before he left, he composed a Coronation March, also specially recorded for this programme by the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

02Schubert's Heir20140701

Donald Macleod discovers how Gurney's early promise came to fruition and then unravelled.

The horrors of the trenches forge a war poet

It's a story that begins full of possibility and hope; Gurney was one of the brightest musical lights of his generation. He imagined himself as Schubert's heir; a fresh, young genius who's music and poetry would revolutionise British society. Donald Macleod discovers how that early promise came to fruition and then unravelled, as Gurney struggled with the horrors of World War One and serious mental illness. Gurney expert, Dr Kate Kennedy, joins Donald to uncover the man behind the tragedy and explore the art he produced in the face of enormous adversity. Much of Gurney's output is still rarely performed, and several works have been specially recorded for these programmes.

Ivor Gurney had been accepted to study music at the Royal College of Music. One of the first things he presented to his tutor, Stanford, was a delicate setting of the poem by Robert Bridges, I Praise the Tender Flower. Soon however, Gurney found that life in London was not for him and he started to get periods of depression.

By 1915, Gurney had been recruited into the army and, after training, found himself serving in the trenches. He was able to compose some music while at war, including one of his most famous songs, By a Bierside, although it was poetry that occupied more of his attention during this period. In the wall of his dugout, Gurney erected a little shrine to his beloved Gloucestershire with a picture postcard. Amid the mud and squalor, a tune kept running through Gurney's mind - it was his own setting for Psalm 23, recorded here by the BBC Singers especially for Composer of the Week.