Tragic composer Peter Warlock's hand-written score for masterwork for sale at Bonnhams autograph manuscript of the curlew

The autograph manuscript of Peter Warlock's masterpiece The Curlew is to be auctioned at Bonhams Fine Books, Maps and Manuscripts sale in London on March 27th. It is estimated at £4,000-6,000.

The Curlew, a setting of four poems by W B Yeats, is seen as his best work, a view shared by the composer – "for the first time in my life I really felt pleased with something I had written" as he told a friend after the premiere.

Warlock had toyed with the composition for a number of years and one of his early – now lost – works - was a setting of the individual poem The Curlew written in 1916. His friend and mentor, Delius, heard the song and was moved to write to the aspiring composer, "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"

It took seven years and many false starts before the song cycle as we know it today had its first performance in 1922. The work, however, remained unpublished. Yeats had banned his verse from being set to music without his permission, following an unfortunate experience with a rendition of the 'Lake Isle of Innisfree' by 1,000 boy scouts. He only allowed The Curlew to be published after the work won a Carnegie Trust Medal.

Warlock, whose real name was Philip Heseltine, led a bohemian existence and had largely burned out by the time of his suicide in 1930 at the age of 36.

The 31 page manuscript corresponds almost exactly to the published score for tenor voice, flute, cor anglais, two violins, viola and cello, with the addition of a piano to the scoring in around 30 bars.


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