WARLOCK (PETER, PHILIP HESELTINE) Autograph manuscript full score of his song-cycle The Curlew, setting four poems by W.B. Yeats
Lot 222
Sold for £8,750 (US$ 11,847) inc. premium

Lot Details
Autograph manuscript full score of his song-cycle The Curlew, setting four poems by W.B. Yeats, for tenor voice, flute, cor anglais, two violins, viola, cello, and piano, inscribed at the head by Warlock "W.B. Yeats/ The Curlew/ Peter Warlock", 31 pages, notated in black ink with occasional additions and corrections in both pencil and black ink, on eighteen-stave music paper bearing Longman's ship emblem (AL No.12) [paper also favoured by E.J. Moeran with whom Warlock set up house in Enysford in 1925], barely discernible browning on outer leaves but overall in fine, fresh condition, sewn into cloth boards, slight foxing to end-papers, 4to, [c.1922]


  • AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT OF WARLOCK'S SONG CYCLE THE CURLEW, HIS GENERALLY ACKNOWLEDGED MASTERPIECE, and considered by him to be by far the best work he had done: 'The score bears no trace of archaism, but rather has the intense expressiveness of progressive composers of the period – Schoenberg, Webern and Bartock [especially]. The four settings are held together by long instrumental passages in which the curlew cry of the cor anglais perfectly suggests the sadness of unrequited love. Variety comes with the brief night ride of the witches and the idyll of the sleepy country with the golden-chained swans; but at the end, in a wonderful, largely unaccompanied song, desolation returns with bleak finality' (Richard Drakeford, A Warlock Century Album, EMI, 1994).

    Warlock had first essayed a setting of the individual poem 'The Curlew' not long after leaving university, prompting Delius to write: 'Your song The Curlew is lovely, and gave me the greatest pleasure. Turn to music, dear boy, that is where you will find the only real satisfaction' (22 January 1916). This setting does not survive but may have been the germ for the cycle of four poems that evolved in bursts of creativity, as was Warlock's wont, albeit atypically over a span of seven years, including a version that received a disastrous performance by Gerald Cooper in 1920. The version that has come down to us dates from 1922; Warlock writing to Colin Taylor on 7 December: 'My "Curlew" cycle was performed on Nov 23rd – and for the first time in my life I really felt pleased with something I had written. Wilson buggered up the voice part completely but the instrumentalists were fine'; and to Robert Nichols on 15 January 1923: 'This is based on the songs you heard at a Cooper concert two years ago, but only a little of the old version has been retained and all the best part is new... Yeats, as I told you, won't give me permission to publish any of my settings of his poems so the work perforce remains in manuscript" (Collected Letters of Peter Warlock, edited by Barry Smith, 2005). Yeats – never at the best of times very musical – had instituted a ban on having his verse set to music without express permission after being forced once to hear 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree' sung by a thousand or so boy scouts (see Fred Warlock's introduction to the Stainer & Bell score, 1973). In the case of The Curlew, however, he relented after it received a Carnegie Trust medal.

    Apropos the genesis of the work Brian Collins writes: 'A precise chronology for the composition of the four Yeats songs that comprise The Curlew is difficult to determine. Little survives in the way of sketch or other autograph material that could solve the problem and it is, therefore, impossible to discuss it in a chronological context that is wholly accurate. Indeed, the situation is further complicated by the passage of time because what must be dealt with here is the published version, the only one that has survived, and there is verbal evidence that this is not as originally formulated by Warlock. It is not unlikely that earlier, seminal attempts differed from what is now available' (Peter Warlock: The Composer, 1996, p.60). The Stichvorlage (printer's manuscript), dated 'P Cefn June 1922', was sold at Sotheby's, lot 520, 26 May 1994 (this is described in the catalogue as a setting of 'the poem by W.B. Yeats', but in fact encompasses the complete cycle). The present manuscript, more carefully-written than the Stichvorlage, likewise corresponds to the published score, apart from a few tweaks (seemingly more in the nature of corrections than revisions); except in one crucial respect. In ours, a piano has been added to the scoring; and is present in nearly thirty bars, most notably contributing ten at the opening and eight at the close, although even here the scoring of both versions otherwise remaining the same. See illustration overleaf.
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  1. Simon Roberts
    Specialist - Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs
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