Peter WARLOCK (1894 – 1930) Capriol Suite (1926)

i. Basse Danse iv. bransles
ii. Pavane v. Pieds-en-l’air
iii. Tourdion vi. Mattachins

Born in London of Anglo-Welsh parents the composer of the Capriol Suite left his home in Wales to study at Eton College and, for a short while, at Christ Church Oxford before becoming a music critic under his real name, Philip Heseltine. He was largely self-taught as a musician, his studies inspiring him with a particular admiration for the music of Delius, whom he visited at his home in Grez-sur-Loing near Paris, and of whom he became the first biographer. Indeed he co-organised the inaugural Delius festival in 1929 with the greatest champion of Delius, Thomas Beecham.

His life was somewhat dissolute, but his magnetism was such that he became the model for a number of such characters in literary works by luminaries of the time such as Aldous Huxley, Osbert Sitwell and, notoriously, D.H.Lawrence, who used him as the model for Julius Halliday in Women in Love, few which the author was successfully sued.  Always unstable, Heseltine died of gas poisoning in December 1930, probably by his own hand – he made sure that his cat was put first,

When Heseltine came to submit his own compositions for publication he met universal rejection, presumably because of his tough reputation as a music critic, only achieving acceptance under the pseudonym of Peter Warlock. His initial published works, submitted in 1919, comprised a group of songs, which were taken up at once by eminent singers of the day, upon which he admitted the deception. Apart from Delius, his compositional style was also influenced by Bartok, most notably in perhaps his finest work of all, the song cycle The Curlew. He also composed a number of carols which are still popular today, including Adam Lay Ybounden and Bethlehem Down.

Undoubtedly his most  well-known work, however, is the Capriol Suite, one ‘particular fruit of his deep interest in 16th century music, others being a myriad of transcriptions of Tudor and Stuart lute songs. The suite itself has been transcribed for almost every imaginable instrumental combination but is most popular in this version for string orchestra. Based upon a French treatise on dance, Orchesographie (1589), compiled by Thoinot Arbeau (yet another pseudonym!}, the Capriol Suite comprises six short movements, the relatively simple melodic lines given a stimulating early-twentieth-century harmonic astringency in all except the well-known Pavone, which still has its 16th century complexion.  As for the title of the suite, it arises from the fact that Arbeau’s treatise was written in the form of a fictional dialogue between himself and a lawyer, capriol, who wishes to learn to dance.

Basse Danse is appareently a dance for older folk, in which the dancers’ feet for the most part slide along the floor. Pavone is the familiar stately dance. Tordion is a brief, delicate movement in 6/4 time, dying away to nothing at the end. Bransles (pronounced ‘brawl’) is the most substantial movement. Originally this was a fast country dance – not a fight! – in duple time pressing on at ever­ increasing speed, and still danced in the 1660s at the court of Charles II. Pieds­ en-l’air is an exquisitely serene dance in 9/4 time, the dancers’ feet moving so gently that they barely touch the floor, hence the title. Mattachins is a sword dance,   danced   by   four   men   in   pretend   combat   and   climaxing   in violent dissonance .

Hits: 12