Donald Macleod discovers how Ivor Gurney's early promise came to fruition and then unravelled, as Gurney struggled with the horrors of World War I and serious mental illness.
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 whose 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.