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Memories of ‘The Warlock Circle’




(Abstracted from PETER WARLOCK - A CENTENARY CELEBRATION - Thames Publishing, London, 1994, pp. 187 et seq)

Various writers on Philip Heseltine (Peter Warlock) have asked why they themselves and others cannot forget his life or his music, or were drawn to them in the first place. For my own part I have come to have a strong conviction in the validity of the ancient Chinese science of Feng Shui, which seeks to elucidate the favourable (or malefic) qualities of directions and locations. Take a ruler and pass it from Kent near East Farleigh or Eynsford, and it will travel through, or pretty near, Oxford, having crossed London; and then on via Newtown to Carnaervon, then Dublin, crossing what was West Meath and cutting the Mayo coast not far from Achill, climax of Philip’s western odyssey. I was born in West Meath; moved back along the line just drawn, a little later than he did, to North Wales; and then still further, across the Herefordshire border; and to Oxford by 1925 - when I might have met him, crossing and recrossing the Christ Church quadrangle on his way to the library. Instead, unfortunately, I met Holst, who refused his autograph on the grounds that he ‘didn’t know’ me. In 1928 I came across the first time Philip’s Three Carols, in the new Oxford Book of Carols, and had no doubt whatsoever that I wanted to know this musician. In grief, three years later, I played clarinet in the Hereford Orchestra for a memorial performance of his Capriol suite. In the period from 1934 to 1988 I lived entirely in London or Kent, if not abroad. I passed through Eynsford on most journeys; but only got out once, to pursue his haunts, and discovered that the barman was dishing up a potted version of Cecil Gray’s memoir.

I arrived at University College. London, in 1934, much as Philip had done in 1914. By 1936 I was living a stone’s-throw from that curious semicircular, tiled crescent, Cartwright Gardens, where Philip landed as a student, and noted ‘the prevalence of whores [still evident in King’s Cross] and hot potato men’, (1) though these had been displaced in Marchmont Street by cat’s-meat men, calling, as in medieval days, ‘Smeat!’ In 1934 the poet Dylan Thomas also arrived in London, to live - he said - ‘on women’, but in fact to exist fitfully on two painter-friends in Chelsea. Another extraordinary Feng Shui line of fate and significance extended between Dylan and Philip, via a sort of shining axis of Welsh bohemianism, in which the connecting link was the expensive, and somewhat too alcoholic, ‘antic hay’ danced by Augustus John, since by 1938 Dylan had married the John model, Cathy Macnamara, in much the same spirit of bravura as Philip’s marriage to Bobby Channing, the John model known as Puma.

I was introduced into the remains of the Heseltine circle by a fellow countryman of Cecil Gray, who slightly resembled his, or Philip’s, one-time landlord, described as a Scottish metaphysician, (2) with a taste for Hegel. John Scott, who shared a curious, hot flat with me in Marchmont Street, directly over a Spanish restaurant, worked - as a statistician at the Galton laboratory and combined brilliant mathematical gifts with a taste for breeding a rival to Philip’s RED cat, and an admiration for Philip’s music. His visit to Gray may have been on my behalf or that of the cats, but the result was an immediate and generous visit by Cecil to Marchmont Street, and an offer to assist a penniless student with much-needed composition lessons.

But to regress for a short space to the year 1934. In that first winter of my arrival, the musical world was already deprived of two major figures, Delius and Elgar. But Thomas Beecham, one of Philip’s closest associates, was very much alive and directing a series of Delius memorial concerts, at which I heard an unforgettable, poignant performance of the early Dowson work Cynara, dedicated to Philip’s memory by Delius himself. Beecham’s enthusiasms, unpopular at the time, and his pugnacity had influenced Philip from as far back as 1910, as had his forthright opposition to the academic world. These attitudes, together with the free-living and somewhat brash sexuality of Augustus John, were the two most potent influences which, during his early years, brought down upon his head a good deal of obloquy. In his Delius biography, Beecham sneered at Heseltine for not being a better disciple; but Philip had in fact devoted a good deal of time and effort on Beecham’s behalf. Beecham, though an ‘outsider’ like Philip, was a moneyed and powerful wizard. I doubt whether the sounds he produced, at times, from such works as Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust have ever been equalled by any conductor.

In 1934 two remarkable books on music had been published: Cecil Gray’s memoir Peter Warlock, and Constant Lambert’s Music Ho!. Part of the background to the completion of Peter Warlock is provided by some revealing letters to me from Cecil Gray’s second wife, Marie Nielson, a charming Scottish dancer-friend of Constant, with whom Cecil suddenly fell in love that year, while working on the book. Believing himself rejected, he precipitately fled to South America on the Almeida Star, hinting darkly that he would throw himself and the book overboard. But Marie had relented and he knew it, though he persisted with the trip. Carping critics of the memoir, for its ‘bias’ and ‘incompleteness’, can take time to conjecture, had the book sunk in the Atlantic, who else could have put Philip ‘on the map’ with the literary aplomb, humour, sympathy and personal knowledge, which has stood the test of time and bred several generations of enthusiasts for the work and the man. It must be remembered, too, that the book was not a deliberate whole, but a carefully organised compendium, with its evocation of the bohemia of the Cafe Royal, and a very tiny peep-show of Augustus John’s extensive relations with Philip, and the important revelations by Robert Nichols of the composer’s undergraduate days, and by Richard Terry of his status in the Early Music field, which today might have made him a millionaire. The only other person with the necessary literary background, humour and musical experience to have undertaken Peter Warlock was Constant Lambert, and he was far too busy putting the Sadler’s Wells Ballet on its feet, and completing his unique review of the relationship of music to the arts and social forces of the day - a book which, in spite of its lacunae, due to a personal quarrel with Diaghilev, dislike of Stravinsky’s neo-classicism, and disdain for the cheap exploitation of popular music by Tin-Pan Alley, was nevertheless unique in its praise for Kurt Weill, for Satie, and more than respect for works little known at the period, like Berg’s Violin Concerto and Stravinsky’s Les Noces.

Constant’s tour de force, in The Rio Grande, suggesting the possibilities of a symphonic jazz, affected me so much l felt I had to know this composer and if possible become a pupil. But Cecil Gray was surprisingly reticent, saying: ‘He can’t teach you anything.’ In compensation, he arranged a dinner to meet Constant at the fine old Pagani’s restaurant, the best musical meeting place in London (with the Cafe Royal and later the Casa Prada - where musicians signed on the table-cloths).

In the immediate post-war years, after Pagani’s had been bombed, a sort of luncheon club was formed in Great Portland Street, run by former Pagani’s employees. This is of interest to history, since it acted as something of a centre and meeting place of most of Philip’s residual circle, including Jack [EJ] Moeran, and certain composers like Elisabeth Lutyens and Alan Rawsthorne, who showed almost no interest either in Philip or his works or in van Dieren. (3) Rawsthorne, however, was very close to Philip’s old friend Moeran, and stayed with him in Ireland.

The meeting at Pagani’s with Constant was memorable not only in exhibiting all his qualities, as the most witty and erudite talker on musical matters one was likely to meet - and it has remained so but also in giving one an insight into his sufferings and weaknesses; even then, in the taxi going home, he begged me to find him some pills for his insomnia; and he was clearly very lame. Few people who did not know him realise the extent of his crippling leg-trouble, from an old childhood bone disease (osteo-myelitis) which made walking with a heavy stick imperative.

Robert Graves, himself a psychological casualty of the 1914 war, maintained that the oracular heroes of ancient times, including Christ, were ritually maimed: and this certainly applied to the remarkable (but neglected) mystical poet Hugo Manning, friend of Dylan Thomas and Roy Campbell, a victim of injuries from World War II. The composer who did agree to teach me at this time, at Gray’s request, was Patrick Hadley, who had himself lost a leg in the 1914 war. Paddy Hadley, later Professor at Cambridge, was no stranger to the bottle, and came generously to the flat at Marchmont Street and was happy to teach, provided there was a bottle of sherry between the piano pedals. Later the task devolved upon Alan Rawsthorne, and after an introductory dinner given by Paddy at the Hyde Park Hotel, I moved up to Hampstead to be near Rawsthorne’s lair in Belsize Park.

In my earliest London days the most important of Philip’s associates, Bernard van Dieren, was still alive, though dying by the day. He was too ill to meet anyone, and potential pupils, like Humphrey Searle, were warded off by Frida, his wife. Though not ritually wounded, van Dieren had sustained a mortal wound to his kidneys 20 years earlier. After 1930 he devoted much of his scarce working-time to propaganda for Philip, and stimulating Gray and others to work on his behalf, with memoirs or concerts. Frustrated in his attempt to get near van Dieren, Searle - who had been a very early friend of Constant while still at Oxford - went off to sit at the feet of Webern in Vienna. When I met him in 1938 he had just put on a concert in which he conducted some of his own work, some of Webern’s, and an arrangement of van Dieren’s beautiful Adagio from the Fifth String Quartet, a work which Philip had known, as it had appeared before his death. Philip was the dedicatee of the Sixth Quartet, but the Fifth was dedicated to another of the circle of friends, the virtuoso violinist Antonio Brosa. The work appeared in print in the late thirties and Rawsthorne, disinterested, give me his copy. I got to know Brosa well later, when he played my Sonata for violin and piano at Wigmore Hall. I visited him at his home in Tossa del Mar, but discovered he had never quite forgiven me for tactlessly declaring that I regarded the guitar as a more ‘difficult’ instrument than even the violin. Some years before this time, however, I was to meet Brosa’s playing in the melancholy circumstances of the memorial concert to van Dieren at the Aeolian Hall, when he played brilliantly the Sonata for Solo Violin. Even more memorable to me was the shining and translucent sounds extracted from the players of van Dieren’s Spenser Sonnet, under the direction of Constant Lambert, an effect which, like Beecham’s magic with Delius, appears not to have been equalled since. Constant had, however, fulfilled an even more important and compassionate role, in bringing alive for the composer his unperformed Chinese Symphony in 1935. The only full score of this work was in Philip’s handwriting. The composer was only just well enough to attend rehearsals.

In 1937 Constant again conducted this symphony as a memorial gesture, together with the work called Anjou. In those days, before the ‘demotion’ of music, Gray was accorded two pages in Radio Times about the composer. The ‘front man’ for the broadcast was another friend and sympathiser of the circle, Arthur Bliss, who later on, in his capacity of BBC music-controller, gave Gray the only chance in a lifetime to hear one of his operas, The Trojan Women. But behind almost all of those performances of contemporary music in the 1930s was the enormously erudite and (to some) Mephistophelean programme planner Edward Clark, who had known Philip quite well, and to my mind was one of the most authentic and observant judges of his character. Like Beecham, he was a north-country ‘outsider’: outspoken, suspiciously ‘left wing’, and free of the all-pervading gloss of the Oxbridge colleges and official music academies, which to Beecham, Gray and others were detrimental to pre-war musical life. But Edward had compounded this avoidance of officialdom by going off to study with Schönberg, and was involved in raising funds for the master which perhaps helped to find him caught in 1914 and interned in Germany. His work for van Dieren, going back to before 1935, was followed soon by a concert which I attended, in 1936, of great prestige, where Stravinsky performed and the first British performance of the master’s Persephone took place. In 1933-34 Edward had somehow materialised a concert performance of most of Berg’s Wozzeck, not staged here until 1953 (under Kleiber). In a letter to me, Adrian Boult (then conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra), to my surprise, declared his disinterest in this music. Later, extending up to 1939, Edward succeeded in committing large BBC forces to concert presentation of difficult new operatic scores of Busoni, including Arlecchino, and the huge mystical opera Doktor Faustus, heard on stage here at last in the 1980s. Although hamstrung by lack of funds, or a paid, official position, this great producer continued to push contemporary music into performance in the post-war era until his death in 1962, including my own The Hollow Men (1950) at Broadcasting House, and works of Roberto Gerhard, Lutyens, Christian Darnton; also Rawsthorne, Tippett and Britten.

In the mid-1930s another young associate of Philip was coming much to the fore, strangely untrammelled by his outsider status. But William Walton had been mysteriously transformed into an ‘insider’ by his close association with the powerful Sitwell clique. His lack of academic tuition was perhaps responsible for a life-long mental ‘constipation’ in creativity, and I attended around 1935 the truncated premiere of his first symphony, deprived of its recalcitrant last movement. I met Walton first at the Oxford University Press with Hubert Foss, Philip’s ex-landlord, who became a friend and collaborator of mine in the post-war years. Walton expressed much enthusiasm for van Dieren’s songs: so it was a great surprise to read of a letter, leaked with malice by a subsequent publishing associate, expressing dislike of all that group of composers from Delius onwards and outwards. Be that as it may, Walton, on Osbert Sitwell’s testimony, did not disdain Philip’s hospitality at Eynsford. Osbert, however, seems to have disliked Philip, perhaps on the ground that he dared to challenge his views on Italian mosaics. While working on the Gesualdo volume, both Philip and the Italophile Cecil must have spent some considerable time in Italy. Sacheverell Sitwell, however, was clearly impressed with van Dieren, who at one stage had dedicated a song to Edith Sitwell’s friend, Helen Rootham. It is bizarre to think that Stravinsky had declined to meet van Dieren, since Philip and his friend had been responsible for early publication and work on Gesualdo, who later became one of Stravinsky’s heroes. Another hero of Stravinsky was Edward Clark, on whose death the master declared he had wept. Edith Sitwell had been the author of verse set both by Walton and Humphrey Searle. Later, at Searle’s studio, I met her on occasions and found her engagingly charming, provided she was treated as a queen - which she was.

Among the many friends of Philip were two who interested me greatly, and who contributed to The Sackbut: Arthur Symons, with his mad Petronius article, and Roy Campbell. The nearest I came to Symons was the discovery in the 1930s of a bizarre, expensive pink-and-gold leather-bound extravaganza on his immolation in an Italian gaol or asylum, from which he was rescued by his wife, Rhoda. (4) Roy Campbell, on the other hand, I got to know reasonably well, and he generously came to a first performance of my Lorca Songs in later years. He was a close friend of two friends of mine, Dylan Thomas and Hugo Manning. The best cartoonist in the world would be strained by the sight of a short, fat Thomas and huge, bush-hatted Roy, making a noisy entrance to the pub and ripe for trouble, when on what used to be termed a ‘bender’. Hugo Manning once maintained that he and Roy became stuck belly to belly on his narrow staircase in Hampstead. To him, Roy was a perpetual source of humour: with his tall stories of life in the brothels of Barcelona, and endless fights with Epstein. Roy’s wife was the source of van Dieren’s only known peccadillo, out of Frida’s observation. But it came to nothing, and the girl married Roy himself, while her sister - amazingly - married Epstein. (5)

Hugo Manning in the ’30s, as a very young journalist on The Sunday Referee (on which Constant was once music critic), had a ring-side seat at the strangest artistic event of the period: the discovery of Dylan Thomas by Vicky Neuburg and his associates. Neuburg (6) had been a friend of Philip, who set some of his verse (pseudonymic or otherwise) to music. Neuburg, at the time, lived with a female protector in St John’s Wood, whither Dylan, Hugo and others repaired for a very short while. Neuburg had by no means, as once alleged, been ‘ruined’ by the old phoney, Aleister Crowley, who later survived as a very second-rate poet, writing doggerel on the south coast. The Crowley aspect of Philip’s influences was never more than a pose and a rather bad joke. But the recent book by Philip’s son Nigel (7) has revealed a much more important fact, which may shed light on that genuine sense of interior ‘reality’, called in the West ‘mystical’, which began to illumine some of his songs after 1918 . It would appear that none other than the oriental Kaikhosru Sorabji had supplied him, not only with a check on his exaggerated views, but an introduction to Bartók’s work, and, more importantly, Buddhist literature and material of Buddhist Christian syntheses, which may well have been revived by close association in Dublin with the theosophist group, and other thinkers, who congregated close to Philip’s rooms in Upper Mount Street.

A significant member of Philip’s remaining circle in the ’30s was his son Nigel, though he saw little of his father. I met him in the later years of the decade, on the steps of University College; I noted that he seemed shortish, and dark, and concluded he must resemble his mother, the exotic Puma. With others, I must therefore be forgiven a slight shock on reading in Nigel’s Capriol for Mother that he had repudiated his origin from Philip’s legal wife. In a book which for the first time fully exposed the awful strain imposed on the composer by his mother’s implacable hostility to his music, and strict financial rein, Nigel Heseltine gives vent to a much less valuable torrent of abuse against his father’s closest associates, particularly Cecil Gray, who had done his best to keep Philip’s memory alive by his fascinating memoir; and van Dieren, source of his most important esteem and encouragement, so valuable to a man with such a deadly sense of inadequacy. This is unfortunate, to say the least, in the centenary year, when the main concern should be to rehabilitate not only Philip himself, but others of his circle, who were disliked for a way of life which now has become almost the norm with the man-in-the-street. Furthermore, the sneers and the row between ‘independent’ artists and the academics, so characteristic of the period, has been rendered totally anachronistic by the widespread, almost universal, occupation of academic posts by young creative artists, something which has probably come about by derivation from the loneliness of the long distance American writer and composer, and the near disappearance of the monopoly of the well-heeled, upper-middle-class progeny in the schools of art and music.

At the first performance of my Lorca songs in London in 1946 were three important associates of Philip’s circle: Edward Clark, Frida van Dieren and Cecil Gray - in addition to an old friend, the musicologist, A Hyatt King, and Diana Poulton, later President of the Lute Society. Diana had been a friend of Philip, and had been urged by him to involve herself in 16th-century instrumental music. She played from ‘tablature’ and seemed at that time to be about the only person in this country capable of playing the Spanish vihuela. With her (then) husband, Tom, who sang the vocal part, she was an invaluable influence in introducing me to the beautiful repertoire of Spanish song of that period and to the recordings then available of the haunting Cante jondo. This influence, which came, in its way, indirectly from the other side of Philip’s work, was one of the most important in my development, and gave rise, immediately after the war, to the Lorca Songs and the theatre works which followed (Yerma and Blood Wedding) .

Cecil Gray, as I knew him, was not only a man of remarkable literary and historical talent, as well as gifted, though not a genius, in composition. Personally, he was generous in entertaining me in his house in Porchester Gate, where the cats ran up and down the trees chasing each other, and at the West Chiltington windmill, where he entertained me in the war years, with his wife Marie and the baby Fabia; but he was generous in exposition for the composers he promoted, and in putting money at the disposal of potential artists like myself, for help and tuition. One could hardly ask for more from one man. Bernard van Dieren, who also comes under Nigel Heseltine’s lash, was widely respected not only as an original artist, but for his nobility of character under unremitting distress. In the space at my disposal I should not fail to single out his wife, Frida, as one of the finest persons I have known. A brilliant member of Busoni’s Master-classes, and older than her husband, it became clear to her by 1912 that her career as a virtuoso artist was truncated at its start by van Dieren’s illness; and her sacrificial role was to be that of a ‘carer’ with a few piano-lessons thrown in, to keep the wolf from the door. This role she faithfully fulfilled; and in doing so ensured the composer’s survival and the production of most of his work from that early date. Van Dieren’s courage and nobility in his dying years were attested to me by his surgeon, Kenneth Walker, with whom I had the benefit of professional conversations, after the composer’s death.

One other composer who saw a good deal of Philip in his later years, and whom I knew well, was Christian Darnton, who unfortunately quarrelled with Philip over an alleged disturbance at a concert of his works, under Anthony Bernard. He resembled Philip in being strikingly handsome, tall and fair - even more uncannily like Delius in background, being the son of a German textile millionaire. In 1938 he composed one of the most advanced and beautifully organised set of atonal pieces by any British composer, for string quartet; and after a long period in the wilderness, two fine orchestral works, just before his death in 1981. André Mangeot, another associate of Philip - whose quartet I heard play van Dieren’s Ballade of Villon (with speaker) in the 1930s - was involved in a project on the Purcell String Fantasias. In 1963, at a sort of memorial ‘wake’ held for Edward Clark, André was still talking almost compulsively, as old men do, about his inability to forget his times with Philip.

Frida van Dieren died about this time. I had taken her to Constant’s funeral in 1951, when she wept throughout, opposite the stony, white faces of the ballet company. Her mind had gone when I visited her in her nursing home in 1964; and, in a sort of gentle fog of reminiscence, she clung to a picture post-card of her old master, Busoni, and imagined I was he, come to visit her.

These are some of the memories I have of the friends and associates of Philip, left behind after his premature death. Frida told me how he used to bring her sacks of coal on his back; and Marie Gray spoke of Constant’s almost child-like devotion to her and Cecil. In view of some of the pejorative remarks about the circle in which Philip moved and lived, which have found their way into print in recent years, these memories are worth preserving.

© Denis Apivor


1. Cecil Gray: Peter Warlock, p 96.

2. Ibid, p. 128.

3. Many poets were among the clientele, including Roy Campbell, Louis McNiece and Dylan Thomas.

4. Arthur Symons, Confessions (Fountain Press, New York 1930).

5. Roy Campbell, Light on a Dark Horse (London 1951).

6. Jean Overton Fuller: The Magical Dilemma of Victor B Neuburg (London, 1965).

7. Nigel Heseltine: Capriol for Mother London 1992).



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