Peter Warlock was the pseudonym of Philip Arnold Heseltine (October 30, 1894–December 17, 1930), an Anglo-Welsh composer and music critic. Heseltine was born on October 30, 1894 at the Savoy Hotel, which his parents were then using as their London residence. The Heseltines were a wealthy family, with strong artistic connections and some background in classical scholarship. Philip’s parents were Arnold Heseltine, a solicitor in the family firm, and Bessie Mary Edith, née Covernton, the the daughter of a country doctor from the Welsh border town of Knighton. She was Arnold’s second wife. Soon after Philip’s birth the family moved to Chelsea, where he received his first piano lessons and attended a nearby kindergarten. In March 1897 Arnold Heseltine died suddenly at the age of 45; six years later, Bessie married a Welsh landowner and local magistrate, Walter Buckley Jones, and moved to Jones’s estate, Cefn-bryntalch Hall, near Abermule in Montgomeryshire, although the London house was kept on. The youthful Philip was proud of his Welsh heritage, and retained a lifelong interest in Celtic culture;
In 1903 Philip began at Stone House Preparatory School in Broadstairs, where he showed precocious academic ability and won many prizes. In January 1908, at a concert in the Royal Albert Hall, he heard a performance of Lebenstanz by Frederick Delius. The work made little impression on him, until he discovered that his artist uncle, Arthur Joseph Heseltine (known as “Joe”), lived close to Delius’s home in Grez-sur-Loing. Philip then used the connection to obtain the composer’s autograph for Stone House’s music teacher, W.E. Brockway. Philip left Stone House in the summer of 1908, and began at Eton College that autumn. Philip loathed Eton but found relief in music and, perhaps because of the connection with his uncle, formed an interest in Delius. The boy found a kindred spirit in one of Eton’s music teachers, the cellist Edward Mason, a keen advocate of the composer from whom Heseltine borrowed a copy of the score of Sea Drift. In June 1911 Heseltine learned that Thomas Beecham was to conduct an all-Delius concert at London’s Queen’s Hall on the 16th of that month, at which the composer would be present and his Songs of Sunset would be given its first performance. Colin Taylor, a sympathetic Eton piano tutor, secured permission from the school for Heseltine to attend the event. Prior to this, his mother had contrived to meet Delius in her London home; as a consequence, even before the concert Heseltine was introduced to the composer.
By the summer of 1911, a year before he was due to leave the school, Heseltine had tired of life at Eton. Without a clear plan for his future he asked his mother if he could live abroad for a while. His mother wanted him to go to university, and then either into the City or the Civil Service, but she agreed to his request with the proviso that he would resume his education later. In October 1911, he proceeded to Cologne, to learn German and study piano at the conservatory. In Cologne, Heseltine produced his first few songs which, like all his earliest works, were highly imitative of Delius. The piano studies went poorly, although Heseltine expanded his musical experiences by attending concerts and operas. He also attempted a little general journalism, and published an article in Railway and Travel Monthly, on the subject of a disused Welsh branch line. In March 1912 Heseltine returned to London and began preparation under a private tutor for his university entrance examinations. He spent time with Delius at that summer’s Birmingham Festival, and in September he published his first music criticism, an article on Arnold Schoenberg that appeared in the Musical Standard in September 1912.
Despite his mother’s wishes and his lack of formal musical training, Heseltine hoped that he could somehow make a career in music. He consulted Delius, who advised him that, if his mind was set, he should follow his instincts and pursue this objective in the face of all other considerations. Heseltine acceded to his mother’s plans; after passing the necessary examinations he was accepted to study classics at Christ Church, Oxford, and began there in October 1913. Although he enjoyed social success, he soon became depressed and unhappy with Oxford life. In April 1914 he spent part of his Easter vacation with Delius, at Grez, and worked with the composer on the scores of An Arabesque and Fennimore and Gerda, in the latter case providing an English version of the libretto. He did not return to Oxford after the 1914 summer vacation; with his mother’s reluctant consent he moved to Bloomsbury in London, and enrolled at University College London for a course in language, literature and philosophy In his spare time he conducted a small amateur orchestra in Windsor. However, his life as a student in London was brief; in February 1915, he secured a job as a music critic for the Daily Mail at a salary of 100 pounds per year. He promptly abandoned his university studies to begin this new career.
During Heseltine’s four months at the Daily Mail, he wrote about 30 notices, mainly short reports of musical events but occasionally with some analysis. In June; he resigned, frustrated by the paper’s frequent cutting of his more critical opinions. Unemployed, he spent his days in the British Museum, studying and editing Elizabethan music. With time on his hands, Heseltine spent much of the 1915 summer in a rented holiday cottage in the Vale of Evesham with a party that included a young artists’ model, Minnie Lucie Channing, who was known as “Puma.” In November 1915 his life gained some impetus when he met D. H. Lawrence and the pair found an immediate rapport. In February 1916 Heseltine returned to London, ostensibly to clarify his exemption from military service. The social centre of Heseltine’s life now became the Café Royal, in Regent Street, where among others he met Cecil Gray, a young Scottish composer. The two decided to share a Battersea studio, where they planned various schemes together. An event of considerable significance in Heseltine’s musical life, late in 1916, was his introduction to the Dutch composer Bernard van Dieren. In November 1916 Heseltine used the pseudonym “Peter Warlock” for the first time, in an article on Eugene Goossens’s chamber music for The Music Student. Heseltine and Puma were married at Chelsea Register Office on December 22, 1916.
By April 1917 Heseltine had again tired of London life. He returned to Cornwall where he rented a small cottage near to that of the Lawrences. By the summer of 1917, as Allied fortunes in the war stagnated, Heseltine’s military exemption came under review; to forestall the possibility of conscription, in August 1917 he moved to Ireland with Puma. In Ireland, Heseltine combined studies of early music with a fascination for Celtic languages, withdrawing for a two-month period to a remote island where Irish was spoken exclusively. On May 12, 1918 Heseltine delivered a well received illustrated lecture, “What Music Is”, at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, which included musical excerpts from Bartók, the French composer Paul Ladmirault, and van Dieren. This stimulated Heseltine’s own creative powers, and in his final two weeks in Ireland he wrote ten songs, including some later acknowledged by critics as among his finest work. When Heseltine returned to London at the end of August 1918 he sent seven of his recently composed songs to Rogers for publication, submitting these pieces as “Peter Warlock.” They were published under this pseudonym, which he thereafter adopted for all his subsequent musical output, reserving his own name for critical and analytical writings. For the next few years Heseltine devoted most of his energy to musical criticism and journalism. In May 1919 he delivered a paper to the Musical Association, “The Modern Spirit in Music”, that impressed E.J. Dent, the future Cambridge University music professor.
Heseltine had long nurtured a scheme to launch a music magazine, which he intended to start as soon as he found appropriate backing. In April 1920, Rogers decided to replace a semi-moribund magazine he owned, The Organist and Choirmaster, with a new music journal, The Sackbut, and invited Heseltine to edit it. Heseltine presided over nine issues. The Sackbut also organized concerts, which presented works by van Dieren, Sorabji, Ladmirault and others. However, Rogers withdrew his financial backing after five issues. Heseltine then struggled to run it himself for several months; in September 1921 the magazine was taken over by the publisher John Curwen, who promptly replaced Heseltine as editor. With no regular income, in the autumn of 1921 Heseltine returned to Cefn-bryntalch, which became his base for the next three years. The Welsh years were marked by intense creative compositional and literary activity; some of Heseltine’s best-known music, including the song-cycles Lilligay and The Curlew, were completed along with numerous songs, choral settings, and a strings serenade composed to honor Delius’s 60th birthday in 1922. Heseltine also edited and transcribed a large amount of early English music. His recognition as an emerging composer was marked by the selection of The Curlew as one of the works representing contemporary British music at the 1924 Salzburg Festival.
Heseltine’s major literary work of this period was the completion of a biography of Delius, the first full-length study of the composer, which remained the standard work for many years. In April 1921, on a visit to Budapest, Heseltine had befriended the then little-known Hungarian composer and pianist Béla Bartók. When Bartók visited Wales in March 1922 to perform in a concert, he stayed for a few days at Cefn-bryntalch. In September and October 1923 Heseltine accompanied his fellow-composer E.J. Moeran on a tour of eastern England, in search of original folk music, and later that year visited Delius at Grez-sur-Loing in the company of Gray. In June 1924 he left Cefn-bryntalch and lived briefly in a Chelsea flat. After spending Christmas 1924 in Majorca he took the lease of a cottage in the Kent village of Eynsford. At Eynsford, with Moeran as his co-tenant, Heseltine presided over a bohemian household with a flexible population of artists, musicians and friends. Moeran had studied at the Royal College of Music before and after the First World War; he was an avid collector of folk music and, like Heseltine, had been a youthful admirer of Delius. They rarely worked together, though they collaborated to produce the song “Maltworms.” Heseltine accomplished much work, including settings from the Jacobean dramatist John Webster and the modern poet Hilaire Belloc, and the Capriol Suite in versions for string and full orchestra. He continued with his transcriptions of early music, wrote articles and criticism, and finished the book on Gesualdo. He attempted to restore the reputation of a neglected Elizabethan composer, Thomas Whythorne, with a long pamphlet which, years later, brought significant amendments to Whythorne’s entry in The History of Music in England. He also wrote a general study of Elizabethan music, The English Ayre.
In January 1927 the strings serenade was recorded for the National Gramophonic Society, by John Barbirolli and an improvised chamber orchestra. A year later, HMV recorded the ballad “Captain Stratton’s Fancy”, sung by Peter Dawson. These two are the only recordings of Heseltine’s music issued in his lifetime. His association with the poet and journalist Bruce Blunt led to the popular Christmas anthem “Bethlehem Down”, which the pair wrote in 1927. By the summer of 1928 he was forced to give up the cottage at Eynsford, and returned to Cefn-bryntalch. In November 1928, bored with life at Cefn-bryntalch, Heseltine moved back to London. He sought concert reviewing and cataloguing assignments without much success. His main creative activity was the editing of Merry-Go-Down, an anthology which was published by The Mandrake Press and copiously illustrated by Hal Collins.
Early in 1929 Heseltine received two offers from Sir Thomas Beecham which temporarily restored his sense of purpose. Beecham had founded the Imperial League of Opera (ILO) in 1927 and now invited Heseltine to edit the ILO journal. Beecham also asked Heseltine to help organize a festival to honor Delius, which the conductor was planning for October 1929. Heseltine’s accepted Beecham’s assignment, and travelled to Grez in search of forgotten compositions that could be resurrected for the festival. He was delighted to discover Cynara, for voice and orchestra, abandoned since 1907. For the festival, Heseltine prepared many of the program notes for individual concerts and supplied a concise biography of the composer. At a Promenade Concert in August 1929, Heseltine conducted a performance of the Capriol Suite, the single public conducting engagement of his life. In an effort to reproduce their success with “Bethlehem Down,” he and Blunt proffered a new carol for Christmas 1929, “The Frostbound Wood.” Heseltine edited three issues of the ILO journal; then, in January 1930, Beecham announced the closure of the venture, and Heseltine was out of work again.
The final summer of Heseltine’s life was marked by gloom, depression, and inactivity; In July 1930 a period spent with Blunt in Hampshire brought a brief creative revival; Heseltine composed “The Fox” to Blunt’s lyrics, and on his return to London he wrote “The Fairest May” for voice and string quartet. These were his final original compositions. In September 1930 Heseltine moved into a basement flat in Chelsea. With no fresh creative inspiration, he worked in the British Museum on transcriptions of music by the English composer Cipriani Potter, and made a solo version of “Bethlehem Down” with organ accompaniment. On the evening of December 16 Heseltine met with van Dieren and his wife, and invited them home afterwards. According to van Dieren, the visitors left at about 12.15 am. Neighbors later reported sounds of movement and of a piano, in the early hours of the morning. The police broke into the flat where they found Heseltine unconscious; he was declared dead shortly afterwards, apparently as the result of coal gas poisoning. An inquest was held on December 22, but the jury could not determine whether the death was accidental or suicide, and an open verdict was returned.
Heseltine’s surviving body of work includes about 150 songs, mostly for solo voice and piano. He also wrote choral pieces, some with instrumental or orchestral accompaniment, and a few purely instrumental works. Among lost or destroyed works the musicologist Ian Copley lists two stage pieces: sketches for the abandoned opera Liadain and Curither, and the draft of a mime-drama Twilight (1926). As well as his contribution to the art of song, Heseltine’s biographer Brian Collins considers him one of the prime movers in the 20th century renaissance of early English music. Apart from much writing on the subject, he made well over 500 transcriptions of early works. He also wrote or contributed to ten books, in addition to his output of general music articles and reviews. My collection includes the following work by Warlock:
Capriol Suite for string orchestra.