Years ago I reviewed Barry Smith’s book Peter Warlock/The Life of Philip Heseltine in the TLS. It is a most useful scholarly book, but also a page-turner, almost a murder mystery, ending with the composer’s mysterious death at the age of 36. (When writing about him, I never worked out whether to call him ‘Heseltine’, his real name, but now I’ll stick with ‘Warlock’, as black magic was amongst his many interests.)
My brief acquaintanceship with Warlock scholarship has turned out to be the gift that goes on giving. A few years ago it emerged that Warlock had an illegitimate son who grew up to be the rather unpopular art critic Brian Sewell. And now a book has been published (compiled and edited by Barry Smith and Brian Inglis) detailing Warlock’s surprising friendship via correspondence from a composer who you would have thought to be his polar opposite, the proto-maximalist Kaikhosru Sorabji. I had the honour of contributing a short preface to this bizarre collection.
Brian Inglis teaches at Middlesex University, so it was up there, to Hendon, that I went for an enjoyable launch event for the new book. After Brian’s helpful introduction featuring, inter alia, slides of the rather super London residences lived in by these ‘starving composers’, some Middlesex students played and sang a few pleasant and familiar Warlock numbers. Whereupon courageous but calm pianist Gabriel Keen sat down for his bout with Sorabji; the First Sonata, around half an hour non-stop big-handed scurrying. The music sounded much more harmonic than I remember it, suggesting that Gabriel’s version was more accurate than previous attempts I’ve heard over the years. But for me, that’s enough of this composer for a while.