Gurney, Ivor (1890-1937)

Ivor Gurney

born: 28 August 1890
died: 26 December 1937
country: United Kingdom

Ivor Bertie Gurney was born on 28 August 1890 at No 3 Queen Street, Gloucester—a house whose cramped quarters served both as home and workshop for his father’s tailoring business. Though the family lived in modest comfort, work inevitably took precedence over any pretensions to culture. It was therefore a singular stroke of good fortune that a local curate volunteered to stand as godfather at the boy’s christening. That curate, Alfred Hunter Cheesman, took his duties seriously and actively encouraged the young boy as he began to discover artistic gifts that inevitably estranged him from the rest of the Gurney family. He watched over him when he became a chorister of Gloucester Cathedral, allowed him the run of his extensive library and supported him when, in 1906, he enrolled as an articled pupil of the cathedral organist, Dr Herbert Brewer, thereby announcing his intention to make music his career. In 1911 an open scholarship of £40 per annum (plus a matching sum from Cheesman) enabled him to attend the Royal College of Music as a composition pupil of Sir Charles Stanford. In due course he obtained his diploma and had war not broken out in August 1914 would have begun to carve out a career. Instead, he immediately volunteered for army service—only to be turned down because of poor eyesight. In 1915, however, the army was less inclined to pick and choose. On 9 February he was drafted into the 2nd/5th Gloucesters Battalion. By May 1916 he was in France, serving as a private.

Letters from the trenches show that he endured the dangers and discomforts of front-line service with remarkable cheerfulness. Buoyed up by the comradeship of his fellow soldiers, he seems to have felt a sense of ‘belonging’—of no longer being an odd man out. He was, if anything, at peace with himself for the first time in his life. He was even able to write songs in the trenches—though poetry now became a more practical means of self-expression. Severn and Somme, his first volume of poems, was published in 1917. But in that same year, on Good Friday, he sustained a minor bullet wound, and in September, on or about the 10th, inhaled poisoned gas. The actual amount seems not to have been large, but when added to a degree of shell-shock it was sufficient to invalid him back to Blighty. Deprived of the comradeship of the trenches, his progress under the care of the various war hospitals in which he was placed was marked by increasing mood swings, culminating in June 1918 with a serious threat of suicide. Even so, he was soon deemed fit enough to be discharged and in October 1918 he returned to Gloucester to pick up the threads of his career as best he could.

He resumed his scholarship at the Royal College in January 1919, studying this time under Vaughan Williams. Songs and poems (a second volume, War’s Embers, appeared in 1919) now began to pour from him—but, even as they did, his behaviour became increasingly erratic and unpredictable, so that in April 1921 he was obliged to abandon his studies. He returned to Gloucester, but was unable to hold down any job, musical or otherwise. His behaviour now grew so alarming that in September 1922 his family felt obliged to commit him, for his own safety, to the care of the local asylum. In December he was transferred to the City of London Mental Hospital, Dartford, Kent, where his ability to compose music, or write poems, gradually crumbled into incoherence. He died, from pulmonary tuberculosis, on 26 December 1937.

Much ink has been spilled over the nature and cause of Ivor Gurney’s mental deterioration. At first it was thought that his wartime experiences were wholly to blame. Later commentators favoured an inherited tendency to paranoid schizophrenia as the explanation. The most recent research, however, suggests that the origin of his decline is most likely to be found in a sexual indiscretion during his student days, almost exactly mirroring the circumstances that brought about the premature deaths of Schubert, Schumann, and Hugo Wolf!

from notes by Michael Hurd 2001


Gurney: Ludlow and Teme & The Western Playland; Vaughan Williams: On Wenlock Edge
CDH55187Helios (Hyperion's budget label) Composers of World War I
Gurney: Ludlow and Teme; Vaughan Williams: On Wenlock Edge; Warlock: The Curlew
CKD296Download only
Gurney: Severn Meadows & other songs
CDA67243Archive Service
No Exceptions No Exemptions
Studio Master: SIGCD401for the price of 1 — Download only NEWStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
English Orchestral Songs
CDA67065Archive Service
On this Island
CDA67227Archive Service
Songs by Finzi and his Friends
CDH55084Helios (Hyperion's budget label) Composers of World War I
The Power of Love
CDA67888Composers of World War I
Vaughan Williams: On Wenlock Edge; Gurney: Ludlow and Teme & The Western Playland
CDH55187Helios (Hyperion's budget label) Composers of World War I
Vaughan Williams: On Wenlock Edge; Warlock: The Curlew; Gurney: Ludlow and Teme
CKD296Download only
War's Embers
CDH55237Helios (Hyperion's budget label) Composers of World War I
War's Embers
CDD220262CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1) — Archive Service
A Treasury of English Song
This album is not yet available for downloadHYP30Super-budget price sampler — Deleted
Hyperion monthly sampler – August 2014
FREE DOWNLOADHYP201408Download-only monthly sampler

Complete works available for download

A cradle songPaul Agnew (tenor), Julius Drake (piano)
All night under the moonPaul Agnew (tenor), Julius Drake (piano)
An EpitaphPaul Agnew (tenor), Julius Drake (piano)
Black StitchelMichael George (bass), Clifford Benson (piano)
BlawearyMichael George (bass), Clifford Benson (piano)
Bread and cherriesPaul Agnew (tenor), Julius Drake (piano)
By a biersidePaul Agnew (tenor), Julius Drake (piano)
By a biersideMichael George (bass), Clifford Benson (piano)
By a biersideChristopher Maltman (baritone), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins (conductor)
Cathleen ni HoulihanMichael George (bass), Clifford Benson (piano)
Desire in SpringPaul Agnew (tenor), Julius Drake (piano)
Down by the salley gardensPaul Agnew (tenor), Julius Drake (piano)
Down by the salley gardensStephen Roberts (baritone), Clifford Benson (piano)
Edward, EdwardMichael George (bass), Clifford Benson (piano)
Epitaph in Old ModePaul Agnew (tenor), Julius Drake (piano)
Epitaph in Old ModeMichael George (bass), Clifford Benson (piano)
Even such is timePaul Agnew (tenor), Julius Drake (piano)
Even such is timeMichael George (bass), Clifford Benson (piano)
Five Elizabethan SongsMartyn Hill (tenor), Clifford Benson (piano)
Five Elizabethan SongsPaul Agnew (tenor), Julius Drake (piano)
Goodnight to the meadowAlice Coote (mezzo-soprano), Graham Johnson (piano)
Goodnight to the meadowMichael George (bass), Clifford Benson (piano)
Ha'nacker MillPaul Agnew (tenor), Julius Drake (piano)
Ha'nacker MillMichael George (bass), Clifford Benson (piano)
Hawk and BuckleStephen Roberts (baritone), Clifford Benson (piano)
Hawk and BuckleMichael George (bass), Clifford Benson (piano)
I will go with my father a-ploughingPaul Agnew (tenor), Julius Drake (piano)
In FlandersPaul Agnew (tenor), Julius Drake (piano)
In FlandersStephen Varcoe (baritone), Clifford Benson (piano)
In FlandersRobin Tritschler (tenor), Malcolm Martineau (piano)
In FlandersChristopher Maltman (baritone), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins (conductor)
Last hoursMichael George (bass), Clifford Benson (piano)
Ludlow and TemeJames Gilchrist (tenor), Fitzwilliam String Quartet, Anna Tilbrook (piano)
Ludlow and TemeAdrian Thompson (tenor), Delmé Quartet, Iain Burnside (piano)
Most Holy NightPaul Agnew (tenor), Julius Drake (piano)
Most Holy NightMichael George (bass), Clifford Benson (piano)
Nine of the clockPaul Agnew (tenor), Julius Drake (piano)
Nine of the clockMichael George (bass), Clifford Benson (piano)
Severn MeadowsPaul Agnew (tenor), Julius Drake (piano)
Severn MeadowsStephen Varcoe (baritone), Clifford Benson (piano)
The boat is chafingAlice Coote (mezzo-soprano), Graham Johnson (piano)
The boat is chafingMichael George (bass), Clifford Benson (piano)
The cloths of heavenPaul Agnew (tenor), Julius Drake (piano)
The fiddler of DooneyMichael George (bass), Clifford Benson (piano)
The fields are fullPaul Agnew (tenor), Julius Drake (piano)
The folly of being comfortedPaul Agnew (tenor), Julius Drake (piano)
The night of TrafalgarMichael George (bass), Clifford Benson (piano)
The shipMichael George (bass), Clifford Benson (piano)
The singerPaul Agnew (tenor), Julius Drake (piano)
The twa corbiesMichael George (bass), Clifford Benson (piano)
The Western PlaylandStephen Varcoe (baritone), Delmé Quartet, Iain Burnside (piano)
Thou didst delight my eyesMichael George (bass), Clifford Benson (piano)
To violetsMichael George (bass), Clifford Benson (piano)
You are my skyPaul Agnew (tenor), Julius Drake (piano)
You are my skyMichael George (bass), Clifford Benson (piano)
GERALD FINZI (1901-1956))
Only the wanderer, Op 13b No 4Ian Partridge (tenor), Clifford Benson (piano)

Alphabetical listing of all musical works

A cradle song (Gurney)
A gray day and quiet  
All night under the moon (Gurney)
Along the field as we came by  
An Epitaph (Gurney)
As I came by Blaweary  
As I was lying on Black Stitchel  
As I was walking all alane  
Black Stitchel (Gurney)
Blaweary (Gurney)
Bread and cherries (Gurney)
By a bierside (Gurney)
By a bierside (Gurney/Howells)
Cathleen ni Houlihan (Gurney)
Come, sleep, and with thy sweet deceiving  
Desire in Spring (Gurney)
Down by the salley gardens (Gurney)
Edward, Edward (Gurney)
Epitaph in Old Mode (Gurney)
Even such is time (Gurney)
Far in a western brookland  
Five Elizabethan Songs (Gurney)
Five Elizabethan Songs (Gurney/Finzi)
Golden friends  
Goodnight to the meadow (Gurney)
Ha'nacker Mill (Gurney)
Hawk and Buckle (Gurney)
I have come to the borders of sleep  
I will go with my father a-ploughing (Gurney)
I'm homesick for my hills again  
I'm homesick for my hills again  
In Flanders (Gurney)
In Flanders (Gurney/Howells)
In the wild October night-time  
Into my heart an air that kills  
Is my team ploughing?  
Last hours (Gurney)
Lights Out  
Lights Out (Gurney)
Loveliest of Trees  
Ludlow and Teme (Gurney)
Ludlow fair  
Most Holy Night (Gurney)
Nine of the clock (Gurney)
On the idle hill of summer  
Only the wanderer knows England's graces  
Only the wanderer, Op 13b No 4 (Finzi)
Orpheus with his lute made trees  
Sally is gone that was so kindly  
Severn Meadows (Gurney)
The aspens  
The boat is chafing (Gurney)
The cloths of heaven (Gurney)
The far country  
The fiddler of Dooney (Gurney)
The fields are full (Gurney)
The folly of being comforted (Gurney)
The lads in their hundreds to Ludlow come in for the fair  
The leaves fall gently on the grass  
The Lent Lily  
The night of Trafalgar (Gurney)
The old brown thorn-trees break in two  
The ship (Gurney)
The singer (Gurney)
The sun at noon to higher air  
The twa corbies (Gurney)
The Western Playland (Gurney)
There was no song nor shout of joy  
This is a sacred city, built of marvellous earth  
This is a sacred city, built of marvellous earth  
Thou didst delight my eyes (Gurney)
'Tis spring; come out to ramble  
'Tis time, I think, by Wenlock town  
To violets (Gurney)
Twice a week  
Under the greenwood tree  
Under the greenwood tree  
Wake: the silver dusk returning  
Weep you now more, sad fountains  
Welcome, maids-of-honour!  
When I play on my fiddle in Dooney  
When I was one-and-twenty  
When smoke stood up from Ludlow  
Where is landlord of old Hawk and Buckle  
Why does your brand sae drop wi' blude  
With rue my heart is laden  
You are my sky (Gurney)