Warlocks & Pumas (not to be confused with Dungeons & Dragons)

September 21, 2016 at 10:30 am

So there’s this composer, Philip Arnold Heseltine, but he goes by Peter Warlock because he believes himself a wizard. And there’s his lover, a model named Minnie Lucie Channing who goes by Puma because … well, I’ll leave that up to your imagination.

Warlock lived only 36 years, taking his own life in the end. However, he managed to squeeze quite a bit of raucous living into that short life, including occult practices, fiery relationships, an unwanted child, saying whatever he wanted in the worst of circumstances, weekly orgies, police raids, and heavy drinking. He wrote his own epitaph:

Here lies Warlock the composer
Who lived next door to Munn the grocer.
He died of drink and copulation,
A sad discredit to the nation.

You’d expect anybody who lived a life like this to look awesome as well … and yes, Warlock had a very unique look (remarkably like Errol Flynn, I might add.)

warlock1924Heseltine as a Warlock
errol-flynn-robin-hood-01Flynn as Robin Hood

Professionally, he was never happy with his work or his surroundings; he moved around quite a bit, took a number of different unsuccessful jobs, started (and never finished) many projects. Besides music composition, he published a number of different music journals, wrote musicological books, and helped to grow the budding new interest in folk and early music at the beginning of the 20th century. The influence of English folk music and early music styles can be heard in his popular Caprol Suite for strings. It features six folk-dance-like movements, simple melodies, and a sort of modern-modal harmony.

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Musical Meat

September 18, 2016 at 5:49 pm

A fellow church musician once said to me that the poetry of George Herbert shows us that good hymns can indeed have good words. While some hymns merely repeat a simplistic word phrase over and over, Herbert’s plumb the depths of the soul. Likewise, there are sacred melodies that move us to new heights, and other that are tacky or dull.

This setting of “Love Bade Me Welcome”, from Ralph Vaughan-WilliamsFive Mystical Songs, is not “catchy”; the dark, modal melody is slow to develop. The words require you to actually listen to them and think a little. This is musical meat, not a quick sugar rush; it feeds us in a lasting way that builds us up. It tells an allegorical story of an intimate dinner where a guest feels unworthy of his host; the host gently assures him he is worthy, and has him sit down to a feast. At 3:44, Vaughan-Williams uses the chant of the ancient Eucharistic hymn O Sacrum Convivium (O Sacred Banquet), tying Herbert’s poem to the Christian sacrament, ending with a quiet ascent to heavenly bliss.

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Musical crime: Purcell-snatching

September 14, 2016 at 12:01 pm

Henry Purcell was long considered the greatest English composer, until the early 20th century ushered in a new era of English music (and ushered out an era of fairly poor music). Nowadays he is overshadowed by other baroque composers, but his influence lives on. His church music is still a staple of the Anglican church. His music was electronicfied (yes, that’s a word) in the movie A Clockwork OrangeThe Who claims Purcell’s lush baroque harmony as an influence in their song “Pinball Wizard.” And Benjamin Britten (the most important English composer of the mid-20th century) simply adored him – so much so that Britten’s most famous composition is stolen (yes, stolen) directly from some incidental music Purcell wrote for a play. The original composition can be found here:

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