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The grave of Ivor Gurney at Twigworth, Gloucestershire
Ivor Bertie Gurney (28 August 1890 - 26 December 1937) was an Englishmarker composer and war poet.

Born at 3 Queen Street, Gloucestermarker in 1890, Gurney sang as a chorister at Gloucester Cathedralmarker, from 1900 to 1906, when he became an articled pupil of Dr Herbert Brewer at the cathedral. During this time he met composer Herbert Howells, also a pupil of Brewer, and, in 1908, he met the future poet F. W. Harvey. Gurney began composing music at the age of 14, and won a scholarship to the Royal College of Musicmarker in 1911. He studied there with Charles Villiers Stanford, who also taught Ralph Vaughan Williams, John Ireland, Marion M. Scott, Rebecca Clarke, Frank Bridge, Arthur Bliss, Howells and many others. Stanford told Howells that Gurney was potentially "the biggest of them all", but he was "unteachable".

Gurney's studies were interrupted by World War I as he enlisted as a private soldier in the Gloucestershire Regiment. He was wounded in April 1917 and gassed in September the same year. After his release from hospital he was posted to Seaton Delavalmarker, a mining village in Northumberlandmarker, where he wrote poems including 'Lying awake in the ward'. His first volume of poetry, Severn and Somme, was published in November 1917, followed by War's Embers in 1919.

By March 1918 Gurney was in the Gallery Ward in Brancepeth Castlemarker, County Durham, where he wrote several songs, despite the piano sounding like "a boiler factory in full swing because of the stone walls". After the war, he returned to London to resume his music studies at the RCM with Vaughan Williams.

Gurney suffered from bipolar disorder or manic-depressive illness, which showed symptoms during his mid-teens and led to his first documented breakdown in 1913, followed by a major breakdown in the spring of 1918 while he was still in uniform. His 1918 nervous breakdown was triggered by the failure of his relationship with VAD Annie Nelson Drummond whom he met when he was a patient at the Edinburgh War Hospital.(September to October 1917). The notion of Gurney as a victim of shell shock derives from Gurney's close friend, the critic-musicologist Marion Scott, who wrote the initial press releases after Gurney's death suggesting that his illness was connected to the war. She also wrote the first Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians entry on Gurney using the term "shell shock".

Although Gurney seemed to thrive after the war when he was regarded as one of the most promising men of his generation, his untreated bipolar illness continued to worsen. By 1922, his condition had deteriorated to the point where his family had him declared insane. He spent the last 15 years of his life in mental hospitals, first for a short period at Barnwood House in Gloucester, and then at the City of London Mental Hospitalmarker, Dartfordmarker, where he was diagnosed as suffering from "delusional insanity (systematized)" He continued to write poetry and a scattering of music, which was collected and preserved by Scott and later edited by Edmund Blunden, Gerald Finzi, and others.

Death

Gurney died of tuberculosis while still a patient at the City of London Mental Hospital on 26 December 1937, aged 47. He was buried in Twigworth, near Gloucestermarker.

Gurney wrote hundreds of poems and more than 300 songs as well as instrumental music. He set only a handful of his own poems, the best known being Severn Meadows. His best-known compositions include his Five Elizabethan Songs (or 'The Elizas' as he called them) and the song-cycles Ludlow and Teme and The Western Playland, both settings of poetry by A. E. Housman. Gurney was "a lover and maker of beauty", as it said on his gravestone (now replaced after it was damaged -- the original stone now stored inside Twigworth church), and there is something of Schubert and Schumann, but considerably less of the prevailing folk idiom of the time, in the intensity of his musical language.

Gurney is known both as a poet and composer and his reputation in both arts has continued to rise. Edmund Blunden, at the urging of composer Gerald Finzi, assembled the first collection of Gurney's poetry which was published in 1954. This was followed by P. J. Kavanagh's Collected Poems, first published in 1982 and reissued in 2004. It remains the best edition of Gurney's poetry. Gurney is regarded as one of the great World War I poets, and like the others of them, such as Edward Thomas whom he admired, he often contrasted the horrors of the front line with the beauty and tranquillity of his native English landscape.

On 11 November 1985, Gurney was among 16 Great War Poets commemorated on a slate stone unveiled in Westminster Abbeymarker's Poet's Cornermarker. The inscription on the stone was written by a fellow Great War poet, Wilfred Owen. It reads: "My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity."

References



Sources

  • Pamela Blevins, "Ivor Gurney and Marion Scott: Song of Pain and Beauty", The Boydell Press, 2008—the first biography of Gurney in 30 years and the only biography of Marion Scott.
  • Pamela Blevins, "New Perspectives on Ivor Gurney's Mental Illness", The Ivor Gurney Society Journal, Volume 6, 2000, pp,29-58.
  • Pamela Blevins, "One Last Chance: Dr. Randolph Davis and Ivor Gurney", The Ivor Gurney Society Journal, Volume 9, 2003, pp. 91-99.


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