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I missed writing this blog yesterday, meaning that I did not quite get round to it rather than pining for it all day, the reason being that I was out early and back late and in town in between, so there was no real opportunity to get things written.  In any case, both Wednesday and Thursday were quiet days in terms of scribbling notes down onto paper or computer screen, even if the wheels continue to go round in my head at frightening speed. I am carrying a small selection of exercises around with me, jotting down ideas as I go, and am thinking my way though problems when I am out and about without paper and pencil.  Another competition entry needs to go off today, and then I think that I shall bring the shutters down for a bit, go back to sending out my pieces to various people, which has rather fallen by the wayside, and try to crack some technical areas.

Yesterday evening I took a class for Birkbeck, covering a vast array of music in a crammed two hours (including coffee break), and ending up with Ivor Gurney, one of my favourites, and a chap I’ve mentioned before in this blog. Poor Ivor was a man out of time, suffering, we now believe, from a condition not recognised until only a few years ago, and hospitalised by his family. The sadness of Herbert Howells’s visits to Gurney in the asylum, taking the maps of Gloucestershire so that they could trace the routes they walked as young men is acute, and that line of his from The Wanderer (“And who loves joy as he that dwells in shadows?”) sums up, for me, the light and dark of his experience.

Ivor Gurney – a deeply troubled but deeply brilliant mind

It is strange still that Gurney, who for me is composer and poet, should for others be poet and composer, or, still more often, simply poet. Not all his music is of the highest quality, and Howells was objective and respectful enough to his memory to tell things as they were, but the finest of his songs are very fine indeed, and stand among the best by any English composer. I really must get around to reading his biography in depth, taking it off my shelf where it sits alongside his collected poetry, maybe with some Butterworth playing in the background.

While we are on the subject of specific composers, I have been catching up on the podcasts of Radio 3’s Composer Of The Week, one of the best programmes out there. Yesterday I caught up with Percy Grainger, who, as the presenter explained at the start, was “bonkers”. Most people’s acquaintance of his music starts and stops at English Country Gardens, but, my word, there is so much more. Grainger, personal oddities (for want of a better word) aside, wrote some of the most visionary and original music out there, and out there is a pretty accurate description of some of it. The podcast is probably long gone, but if you can find it on the BBC website, then do yourself a favour and have a listen. The thought of Percy leaping off the piano stool in the middle of Grieg’s Piano Concerto, running around the hall to touch the doors of all the fire exits, and arriving back at the instrument just in time to start playing the cadenza made me laugh out loud, and still makes me chuckle.

Unfortunately, his ideas and music have made me realise just how earthbound and unimaginative my work really is by comparison, but most people pale next to that phenomenal mind. On a brighter note, however, my buttocks are rather less lacerated by whip-induced wounds, but that’s another story…

Percy Grainger and the whip – lifelong companions

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