Peter Warlock was the pen name of Philip Arnold Heseltine. He was educated at Eton College, and Oxford University where he read for a degree in classics. From an early age he was fascinated by the work of Fredrick Delius whom he met in 1911. The two became close friends, and Delius supported and mentored him throughout his short life. On graduating he resisted family pressure to work in the stock exchange choosing rather to frequent an artistic circle of friends that included the novelist D H Lawrence.
Warlock never settled into a conventional career. He had some short lived appointments, one as a music critic for the Daily Mail. He did however engage in serious musical scholarship, editing, transcribing and arranging early music manuscripts, and writing a major study of the music of Delius. His first major compositions, mainly songs, began to appear in 1917, at which time he had moved to Dublin to avoid possible conscription. It was at this time that he adopted the pseudonym Warlock, possibly in parody of his interest in the occult. In 1922 he completed his first widely acknowledged masterpiece the song cycle named the Curlew. His period of creativity continued only for a few years culminating in the composition of his most famous work - the Capriol Suite - in 1925. The original piano duet version of the work was a great success and was quickly followed by the version for string orchestra (1926) and a version for full orchestra (1928).
The Capriol Suite is a set of dances in the renaissance style. It was based on tunes found in a manual of Renaissance dances by the French priest Jehan Tabourot. The treatment of the source material is very free and the work can be regarded as an original composition rather than an arrangement. It is made up from of six contrasting movements. The first, Basse Danse, is a lively dance for older folk, in which the dancers’ feet for the most part slide along the floor. The second, Pavane, is far more stately in nature, while the following Tordion is once again spirited, similar in mood to the opening movement. The Bransles (pronounced “Brawl”) is a fast country dance which works its way into a frenzy, continuously building in speed and excitement. The subsequent Pieds en l’air is justifiably the Suite’s most popular movement. While most movements are named after the dance name this one is named after the dancers’ instruction. The dancers’ feet should move so gently that they barely touch the floor. This movement provides a nice oasis of calm before the final movement, Matachins. This is an exhilarating sword dance, danced by four men in pretend combat. The music is march like throughout, climaxing in violent dissonances which send the piece hurtling to a close.
© Matthew Lynch, 2009