Biography of Ivor Gurney
Ivor Bertie Gurney (28 August 1890 - 26 December 1937) was an English composer and war poet.
Born at 3 Queen Street, Gloucester in 1890, Gurney sang as a chorister at Gloucester Cathedral, 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 Music 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. "Being gassed (mildly) [Gurney’s parenthesis] with the new gas is no worse than catarrh or a bad cold” Gurney explained in a letter to Marion Scott on 17 September 1917. The gas had no lasting effects on him and was not a factor in his bipolar illness. After his release from hospital he was posted to Seaton Delaval, a mining village in Northumberland, 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 Castle, 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 Hospital, Dartford, 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.
Ivor Gurney Poems
My Heart Makes Songs On Lonely Roads
My heart makes songs on lonely roads To comfort me while you're away, And strives with lovely sounding words Its crowded tenderness to say.
The Songs I Had
The songs I had are withered Or vanished clean, Yet there are bright tracks Where I have been,
To His Love
He's gone, and all our plans Are useless indeed. We'll walk no more on Cotswolds Where the sheep feed
To The Poet Before Battle
Now, youth, the hour of thy dread passion comes; Thy lovely things must all be laid away; And thou, as others, must face the riven day
I shot him, and it had to be One of us 'Twas him or me. 'Couln't be helped' and none can blame Me, for you would do the same
The Silent One
Who died on the wires, and hung there, one of two - Who for his hours of life had chattered through Infinite lovely chatter of Bucks accent:
To England--A Note
I watched the boys of England where they went Through mud and water to do appointed things. See one a stake, and one wire-netting brings,
Ballad Of The Three Spectres
As I went up by Ovillers In mud and water cold to the knee, There went three jeering, fleeing spectres, That walked abreast and talked of me.
Pain, pain continual; pain unending; Hard even to the roughest, but to those Hungry for beauty . . . Not the wisest knows,
When March Blows
When March blows, and Monday's linen is shown On the goose berry bushes, and the worried washer alone
Half dead with sheer tiredness, wakened quick at night • With dysentry pangs, going blind among sleepers
Requiem Pour out your light, O stars, and do not hold Your loveliest shining from earth’s outworn shell
Suddenly into the still air burst thudding And thudding and cold fear possessed me all, On the gray slopes there, where Winter in sullen brooding
There are strange Hells within the minds War made Not so often, not so humiliating afraid
Those dreadful evidences of Man's ill-doing
The kindly Mother of all shall soon hide deep,
Covering with tender fingers her children asleep,
Till Time's slow cycle turns them to renewing
In other forms their beauty - No grief, no rueing
Irrevocable woe. They'll lie, they'll steep
Their hearts in peace unfathomed, till they leap
Quick to the light of the sun, as flowers strewing,
Maybe, their own friends' paths. And that's not all.