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Peter Warlock was the pseudonym of Philip Arnold Heseltine (30 October 1894 – 17 December 1930), an Anglo-Welsh composer and music critic. The name, which reflects Heseltine's interest in occult practices, was used for all his published musical works. His best-known compositions are songs and other vocal music, but he also achieved notoriety in his lifetime through his unconventional and often scandalous lifestyle. Under his own name he made a reputation as a critic and analyst, especially in the field of early music, and in 1920–21 was editor of the musical journal The Sackbut. Apart from his music and a considerable volume of journalism, he wrote a full-length biography of the composer Frederick Delius, who was his mentor in the early stages of his career. Heseltine died in his London flat of coal-gas poisoning, probably by his own hand.
Heseltine was born on 30 October 1894 at the Savoy Hotel, London, which his parents were using at the time as their London residence. The Heseltines were a wealthy family—Philip's paternal grandfather had made a fortune as a stockbroker—with strong artistic connections and some background in classical scholarship. Philip's parents were Arnold Heseltine, who was a partner in the family's firm of solicitors, and Bessie Mary Edith, née Covernton, generally known as "Covie". The daughter of a country doctor from the Welsh border town of Knighton, she had married Arnold in 1891 and was his second wife. Of a dominating disposition, she exercised a considerable degree of control over her only son's early life. Soon after Philip's birth the family home was established in Hans Road, 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, Walter Buckley Jones, and moved to Jones's estate, Cefn-bryntalch Hall, near Abermule in Montgomeryshire, although the London house was kept on. Jones, a pillar of his local community, served as a magistrate and as an officer in the First Montgomeryshire Rifle Volunteers. The youthful Philip was proud of his Welsh heritage, and retained a lifelong interest in Celtic culture and language; later he would live in Wales during one of his most productive and creative phases.
In 1903 Philip began at Stone House Preparatory School in Broadstairs, where he showed precocious 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 no impression on him at the time; however, when he discovered that his artist uncle, Arthur Joseph Heseltine (known as "Joe"), lived close to Delius's home in Grez-sur-Loing he 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. His biographer Ian Parrott records that Philip loathed Eton, "with its hearty adolescent bawling of Victorian hymns in an all-male college chapel"—a style of worship later parodied by Philip's school contemporary Aldous Huxley in his novel Antic Hay. He was equally unhappy with other aspects of school life, such as the Officers' Training Corps, the suggestive homosexuality and endemic bullying. He found relief in music; the incident involving Delius's autograph was the likely spark for an interest in the composer that developed, over the following years, into a near-obsession. Heseltine's first biographer, Cecil Gray, records that "[he] did not rest until he had procured every work of Delius which was then accessible". The boy found a kindred spirit in one of Eton's visiting music teachers, the cellist Edward Mason, a keen advocate of the composer. In a letter to his mother dated 7 October 1910, he reports that he is "studying [Delius's] operas and songs ... with very great pleasure", and was picking out melodies on the piano. He borrowed a copy of the score of Sea Drift from Mason—he thought it "heavenly"—and was soon requesting funds from his mother so that he could buy more of Delius's music.
In June 1911 Heseltine learned that Thomas Beecham was to conduct an all-Delius concert at London's Queen's Hall later that month, at which the composer would be present. A sympathetic piano tutor, Colin Taylor, secured permission from the school for Heseltine to attend the event, which was held on 19 June. In the interval of the concert Heseltine was able met Delius, possibly through the influence of his mother who earlier that month had engineered a meeting with the composer in Hans Place. The next day, from Eton, he wrote a long appreciative letter to the composer: "I cannot adequately express in words the intense pleasure it was to me to hear such perfect performances of such perfect music". According to Heseltine's biographer Barry Smith, the concert had a profound effect on the boy's life; he wrote to his mother afterwards that "Friday evening was the most perfectly happy evening I have ever spent, and I shall never forget it". Delius became the first strong formative influence of Heseltine's compositional career, and although the initial worship was later modified, the letter was the start of a correspondence and friendship that would largely endure for the remainder of Heseltine's life.
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 thought he might join his father's old firm when he became 18—he asked his mother if he could live abroad for a while. His mother wanted him to go first to university and then either into the City or the Civil Service, but she fell in with his urgent desire to leave Eton, and decisions as to his future career were deferred. In October 1911 he proceeded to Cologne, to study the German language and take piano lessons at the conservatory. In Cologne, Heseltine began tentatively to compose, producing a few songs which, like all his earliest works, were highly imitative of Delius. The piano lessons went poorly, although Heseltine expanded his musical experiences through attendance at concerts and operas, and he maintained his correspondence with Delius. He also attempted a little general journalism, and managed to publish an article in Railway and Travel Monthly, on the subject of a disused Welsh branch line.
In March 1912 Heseltine returned to London, to begin preparation under a private tutor for his university entrance examinations which he would take in December. In this period he attended concerts and other musical events, meeting Delius again at that summer's Birmingham Festival and spending some days in the composer's company. He achieved his first published music criticism with an article on Arnold Schönberg, that appeared in the Musical Standard in September 1912. Early in 1913 he learned that he had been accepted by Christ Church, Oxford, to study classics, and would begin there in October that year. However, despite his lack of formal training in music and contrary to his mother's intentions, he entertained hopes for a career in music. He consulted Delius, and was advised in a letter dated 11 January 1913 that if his mind was set, he should follow his instincts and pursue this objective in the face of all other considerations. This advice was later sharply criticised by Beecham, who knew both men, on the grounds of Heseltine's immaturity and inability to follow any fixed course: "Frederick should never have committed the psychological blunder of preaching the doctrine of relentless determination to someone incapable of receiving it".
In October 1913, Heseltine entered Christ Church. A female acquaintance described him at the time as "probably about 22 (he was 19) but he appears to be years older ... 6 feet high, absolutely fit, thin as a lath, hands rather ugly and red but a white face of the clearest skin, brilliant blue eyes ... and the curved lips and highhead carriage of a young Greek God". Despite his social successes, he soon became depressed and unhappy with Oxford life which he considered pointless. 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, instead moving to Bloomsbury in London, and enrolling at University College, London for a course in language, literature and philosophy. This placed him conveniently close to the capital's musical scene. However, his life as a student in London was brief; in February 1915, with the help of Lady Emerald Cunard (a family friend and mistress of Beecham) he applied for, and secured, a job as a music critic for the The Daily Mail at a salary of £100 per year. He promptly abandoned his university studies to begin this new career.
During the four months in which Heseltine worked for the Daily Mail about 30 notices appeared above his initials, mainly short reports of musical events but occasionally with some analysis. His first piece, dated 9 February 1915, described a performance by Benno Moiseiwitsch of Delius's Piano Concerto in C minor; Delius was hailed as "the greatest composer England has produced for two centuries", Moiseiwitsch's rendering of the piece was "masterly". The other work in the programme was "the last great symphony that has been delivered to the world": the Symphony in D minor by Symphony in D minor (Franck). He wrote more substantially for other publications; a 5000-word article "Some notes on Delius and his Music" appeared in the March 1915 issue of The Musical Times. Heseltine wrote of Delius: "He holds no official position in the musical life of the country; he does not teach in any of the academies, he is not even an honorary professor or doctor of music. He never gives concerts or makes propaganda for his music; he never conducts an orchestra, or plays an instrument in public..." He added: "There can be no superficial view of Delius's music: either one feels it in the very depths of one's being, or not at all". Only Beecham, Heseltine opined, was capable of interpreting the music adequately. Heseltine's last notice for the Daily Mail was dated 17 June; later that month he resigned, frustrated by what he considered the censorship of his critical material. Unemployed, he spent many days in the British Museum, studying and editing Elizabethan music.
Unemployed and restless, with time on his hands, Heseltine spent much of the summer in a rented holiday cottage in the Vale of Evesham. Among those in the party were the future novelist Jean Rhys, the youthful composer Eugene Goossens and a young artists' model, Minnie Lucie Channing, who was known as "Puma" because of her volatile character. She and Heseltine were soon engaged in a passionate love affair. However, Heseltine's letters to Delius and others show that during this period he was depressed and insecure, with no clear purpose in his life. In November 1915 his life gained some impetus after a meeting with D.H. Lawrence, whose novels and poems had deeply impressed Heseltine during his Oxford year. The pair found an immediate rapport; Heseltine declared Lawrence to be "the greatest literary genius of his generation". He enthusiastically fell in with the writer's plans to found a Utopian colony in America, and in late December followed the Lawrences to Cornwall where he worked energetically to help set up a company that would publish Lawrence's books. Passions between Heseltine and Puma had meanwhile cooled; an unwelcome complication was manifested when Puma became pregnant. To Delius, Heseltine confided that he had little liking for the ex-model and had no intention of helping her to raise this unwanted child.
In February 1916 Heseltine returned to London, ostensibly to seek medical exemption from military service. However, a couple of weeks later it was clear that there had been a rift with Lawrence, possibly over Heseltine's ungallant attitude towards the pregnant Puma. Heseltine announced that he would not be returning to Cornwall, and in a letter to his friend Robert Nichols, described Lawrence as "a bloody bore determined to make me wholly his and as boring as he is". The social centre of Heseltine's life now became the Café Royal, in Regent Street, where among others he met the painter Augustus John, the sculptor Jacob Epstein, and Cecil Gray a young Scottish composer with whom he set up home in a Battersea studio. Parrott records that Heseltine had now become unemployable, "having ingratiated himself with a band right outside orthodox society". He and Gray planned various schemes together, including a new music magazine, and, more ambitiously, a season of operas and concerts that, he said, would not compromise by pandering to the tastes of the mob. Heseltine had declined an offer from Beecham to participate in the latter's English Opera Company, believing that Beecham's productions and choices of works were increasingly poor and lacking in artistic value. Beecham responded angrily; he was particularly incensed by the apparent acquiescence of Delius in Heseltine's scheme which would, Beecham said, "be launched and and controlled by persons without the smallest experience of theatrical life". However, the plans came to nothing. A more significant event in Heseltine's musical life, late in 1916, was his introduction to Bernard van Dieren, a Dutch composer living in England. This meeting began a friendship that provided a lasting infuence on Heseltine's future career. In November of that year Heseltine used the pseudonym "Peter Warlock" for the first time, in an article on Goossens's chamber music for The Music Student.
Puma gave birth to a son in July 1916, though there is confusion about the exact identity of the child. Most biographers have assumed this to be Nigel Heseltine, the future writer who published a memoir of his father in 1992. In this account, Nigel denies that Puma was his mother; according to Parrott, the son born to Puma was called Peter and died in infancy. Parrott further asserts that Nigel was the result of a concurrent liaison between Heseltine and an unnamed Swiss girl; Smith, however, states that Puma's baby was originally called Peter but was renamed Nigel "for reasons which have not as yet been satisfactorily explained". Whatever the truth of the paternity, and despite their mutual misgivings, Heseltine and Puma were married at Chelsea Registry Office on 22 December 1916.
By April 1917 Heseltine had again tired of London life. He returned to Cornwall and rented a small cottage near to that of the Lawrences, with whom he achieved a partial rapprochment. In June he was joined by Gray, and the pair moved to a larger house. Heseltine composed a few songs, and under the influence of a new acquaintance, Meredith Starr, resumed his interest in the occult, a field that had intrigued him since his Oxford year. By the summer of 1917, as Allied fortunes in the war stagnated, Heseltine's military exemption was under review; to forestall the possibility of conscription, in August 1917 he moved to Ireland, taking Puma with who he had decided he was, after all, in love.
In Ireland, Heseltine combined studies of early music with a fascination for Celtic languages, withdrawing for a two-month period to an island on the west coast where Irish was spoken exclusively. Another preoccupation was his increasing fascination with magical and occult practices, to an extent that some of his friends feared was psychologically damaging. Letters indicated that he was "tamper[ing] ... with the science vulgarly known as Black Magic", and to his former tutor Colin Taylor, Heseltine enthused about "the most illuminating and altogether wonderful book I have ever read"; this was Eliphas Levi's History of Transcendental Magic, which includes procedures for the invocation of demons. These diversions did not prevent Heseltine from composing songs, or otherwise contributing to Dublin's cultural life. He met Yeats, a fellow-enthusiast of the occult, and considered writing an opera based on the Celtic folk-tale of Liadain and Curithir. The composer Denis ApIvor has suggested that Heseltine's obsession with the occult was eventually moderated through his interactions in Dublin with a theosophist group and with other thinkers. This association revived an interest in religious philosophies that had first been sparked a year or two earlier, by Kaikhosru Sorabji, the composer who had first introduced Heseltine to the music of Bartók.
On 12 May 1918 Heseltine delivered an illustrated lecture, "What Music Is", at Dublin's Abbey Theatre, with musical excerpts from Bartók, the French composer Paul Ladmirault, Heseltines own "Folk Song Preludes" for piano, and arrangements of Dutch melodies by van Dieren. Heseltine had remained a strong champion of van Dieren's music, and in August 1918 engaged in a vituperative war of words with the music publisher Winthrop Rogers, over the latter's rejection of several van Dieren works. This dispute 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, including one recognised by commentators as among his finest: "Take, O take those lips away". Because of his recent contretemps with Rogers over van Dieren, Heseltine sent these pieces using the "Peter Warlock" pseudonym; they were published under this name, as was all Heseletine's further musical output, his own name being reserved for critical and analytical writings. At around this time the composer Charles Wilfred Orr first met Heseltine. He describes him as "a tall fair youth of about my own age", who was trying without success to convince a sceptical Delius of the merits of van Dieren's piano works. Orr was particularly struck by Heseltine's whistling abilities which he describes as "flute-like in quality and purity".
For the next few years most of Heseltine's energy was devoted to musical criticism and journalism. He spent much time promoting his ideas for a music magazine, to be called The Sackbut, which he intended to launch when apppropriate backing could be found. 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 Professor of Music. However, much of his journalism was confrontational and quarrelsome. He made dismissive comments about the current standards of musical criticism ("the average newspaper critic of music ... is either a shipwrecked or worn-out musician, or else a journalist too incompetent for ordinary reporting") which offended senior critics such as Ernest Newman. He wrote provocative articles in the Musical Times, and in July 1919 feuded with the composer-critic Leigh Henry over the music of Stravinsky. In a letter dated 17 July 1919, Delius attempted to calm the younger man, and advised him not to disperse his energies but to concentrate either on writing or composing: "I ... know how gifted you are and what possibilities are in you".
By 1919 Heseltine's view of Delius's music, as revealed in private letters, was beginning to change, although in public he continued to sing his mentor's praises. In The Musical Times he cited Fennimore and Gerda, Delius's final opera, as "undoubtedly one of the most successful experiments in a new direction that the operatic stage has yet seen". In April 1920, Rogers decided to convert a semi-moribund magazine, The Organist and Choirmaster, into a full-blown music journal, and gave Heseltine his chance to launch The Sackbut. Heseltine presided over nine issues; the general style, a later critic wrote, was "wonderfully combative", and the content often controversial. Articles were not confined to musical topics—the poets Arthur Symons and Roy Campbell were both contributors. The Sackbut also organised concerts, which presented works by van Dieren, Sorabji, Ladmirault and others. However, Rogers withdrew his financial backing after five issues; he then sold the magazine to the publisher John Curwen, who in May 1921 replaced Heseltine as editor.
Without a regular income, in the autumn of 1921 Heseltine returned to the family home in Wales, Cefn-bryntalch, which became his base for the next three years. He found the atmosphere there conducive to creative work, writing to Gray that "Wild Wales holds an enchantment for me stronger than wine or woman and intimately associated with music". The Welsh years were marked by intense activity in composition, arrangement and transcription, and a substantial literary output. Some of Heseltine's best-known vocal works, including the song-cycles Lilligay and The Curlew were completed, along with a considerable number of individual songs and choral settings, and a strings serenade composed to honour Delius's 60th birthday. Heseltine edited and transcribed a large amount of early English music and, despite increasing reservations, made numerous arrangements of Delius's works. He also found time to deputise, on occasion, as organist at the nearby Llandyssil Church. Heseltine's growing recognition as a composer of note was marked by the selection of The Curlew as one of the works representing contemporary British music at the 1924 Salzburg Festival.
Heseltine made frequent contributions to The Musical Times and other publications, although his most significant literary work of this period was the completion of his biography of Delius which was, as Beecham observed, the first full-length study of the composer. Thirty years later the book was described by the music publisher Hubert J. Foss as "a work of art, a charming and penetrating study of a musical poet's mind". Together with Gray, Heseltine worked on a book about the 16th-century Italian composer Carlo Gesualdo, although disputes between the collaborators meant that the book, Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa: Musician and Murderer, was not published until 1926.
In April 1921, on a visit to Budapest, Heseltine had met the Hungarian composer and pianist Bela Bartók, and the two had maintained a correspondence. When Bartók visited Wales in March 1922 to perform in a concert at Aberystwyth, he stayed for a few days at Cefn-bryntalch. Heseltine has been a fervent champion of Bartók for several years, but his friendship with the composer appears not to have survived beyond this visit. Likewise, Heseltine's on-off friendship with Lawrence finally died, after a thinly disguised and unflattering depiction of Heseltine and Puma ("Halliday" and "Pussum") appeared in Women in Love, published in 1922. Despite Lawrence's claims that the characters and their actions were entirely fictitious, Heseltine began legal proceedings for defamation, eventually settling out of court with a payment of £50 from the publishers, Secker and Warburg. Puma, meanwhile, had disappeared from Heseltine's life. She had returned from Ireland before him, and had lived for a while with the young child Nigel at Cefn-bryntalch where the local gentry considered her "not of the same order of society as we are". There was no resumption of normal married life, and she left him some time in 1922.
Heseltine's sojourn in Wales was punctuated by occasional visits to London and elsewhere. In September and October 1923 he 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, desirous of change, he left Cefn-bryntalch and lived briefly in a Chelsea flat, a stay marked by wild parties and considerable damage to the property. After spending Christmas 1924 in Majorca he took the lease of a cottage (formerly occupied by Foss) 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 womenfolk. Moeran, of Irish descent, had studied at the Royal College of Music before and after the First World War, under Charles Villiers Stanford and John Ireland. He was an avid collector of folk music and, like Heseltine, was an early admirer of Delius. Under Heseltine's influence he developed a strong interest in early music. Despite their affinities, he and Heseltine rarely worked together, though they collaborated to produce the song "Maltworms". The other permanent residents were Hal Collins, a New Zealand Māori who acted as a general factotum, and Barbara Peache, Heseltine's long-term girlfriend whom he had known since the early 1920s. Although not formally trained, Collins was a gifted graphic designer and occasional composer, who sometimes assisted Heseltine. The household was augmented at various times by the composers William Walton and Constant Lambert, the artist Nina Hamnett, and sundry friends of both sexes.
The ambience at Eynsford was one of alcohol (the "Five Bells" public house was conveniently across the road) and uninhibited sex; these years are the primary basis for the Warlock legends of wild living and debauchery. However, within this milieu Heseltine accomplished much work, including settings from the Jacobean dramatist John Webster and the modern poet Hilaire Belloc, numerous songs, part-songs, carols, and the orchestral Capriol Suite. His association with the poet and journalist Bruce Blunt led to several songs, and to the popular Christmas anthem "Bethlehem Down", which the pair wrote in 1927 to raise money for their Christmas drinking. Heseltine continued with his transcriptions of early music, wrote articles and criticism, and finished the book on Gesualdo. With the help of George Thewlis, a lay clerk from Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, he attempted to restore the reputation of a negelected 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. The juxtaposition in Heseltine's life of serious scholarship and creativity with physical and often drunken excesses has led to unproven conjectures of a split personality disorder.
In January 1927 the "Serenade" was recorded for the National Gramophonic Society, by John Barbirolli and an improvised chamber orchestra. A year later, HMV recorded "Captain Stratton's Fancy", sung by Peter Dawson. These two are the only records of Heseltine's music that were issued in his lifetime. By the summer of 1928, despite his industry his general lifestyle had created severe financial problems, which a burst of songwriting (assisted by Hal Collins) failed to resolve. In October 1928 he was forced to give up the cottage at Eynsford, and returned to Cefn Bryntalch.
From Wales, Heseltine wrote to the British Museum requesting work as a cataloguing assistant. No offer was forthcoming, but in November 1928, bored with life at Cefn Bryntalch, he moved back to London and sought concert reviewing assignments from The Morning Post, again without success. His main creative activity in the early part of 1929 was the preparation for publication of a drinker's anthology, Merry-Go-Down, which he had written under the pseudonym "Rab Noolas" ("Saloon Bar" backwards). The book, copiously illustrated by Hal Collins (who died of tuberculosis later that year) was published by The Mandrake Press.
Early in 1929 Heseltine received two offers from Beecham which temporarily restored his sense of purpose. Beecham had founded the Imperial League of Opera (ILO) in 1927; he now invited Heseltine to edit the ILO journal. Beecham also asked Heseltine to help with the organisation of the Delius Festival, which the conductor was planning to hold in London in October 1929. Although Heseltine's enthusiasm for Delius's music had continued to decline, he accepted Beecham's assignment, and made two journeys to Grez, primarily to seek for forgotten works of Delius that could be resurrected for the festival; he was delighted with the discovery Cynara, for voice and orchestra, abandoned since 1907. Delius's amanuensis Eric Fenby found Heseltine engaging, but was shocked by his private disparaging of much of Delius's work. Heseltine was much in evidence at the festival itself; he prepared many of the programme notes for individual concerts and supplied a concise biography of the composer. According to Delius's wife Jelka: "Next to Beecham, he really was the soul of the thing".
Around this time, Heseltine began to make more general use of the Warlock name; he informed Colin Taylor that he was "now officially Peter Warlock for all public communications". At a Promenade Concert in August 1929, he conducted a performance of the Capriol Suite, the single public conducting engagement of his life. Although he denigrated his own performance it was well received by the audience. In an effort to reproduce their success with "Bethlehem Down", he and Blunt proffered a new carol for Christmas 1929, "The Frostbound Wood"; technically accomplished, this failed to achieve the popularity of its predecessor. 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. His attempt on behalf of van Dieren to raise finance to mount a performance of the latter's opera The Tailor also failed.
During the final summer of his life, Heseltine would sometimes relax by watching cricket matches at The Oval, but in general these months were marked by gloom, depression, and inactivity. ApIvor refers to Heseltine's sense of "crimes against the spirit", and an obsession with imminent death. In July 1930 a fortnight 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, with Barbara Peache, into a basement flat at 12a Tite Street. In late November he took a short motoring holiday in Wales and visited his mother at Cefn Bryntalch. Back in London, with no 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 16 December Heseltine met with van Dieren and his wife for a drink, and invited them home. According to van Dieren, they left at about 12.15 am. Neighbours later reported sounds of movement and of a piano, in the early hours of the morning. When Barbara Peache, who had been away, returned at about 10.45 on 17 December, she found the doors and windows bolted, and a smell of escaping gas. The police were called and broke into the flat; they found Heseltine dead, apparently from the result of coal gas poisoning.
An inquest was held on 22 December; on the basis of the evidence the jury could not determine whether the death was accidental or suicide, and an open verdict was returned. Most commentators have considered suicide the more likely cause; Barbara Peache and Heseltine's close friend Lionel Jellinek both recalled that he had previously threatened to take his life by gas, and the outline of a new will was found among the papers in the flat. Much later, Nigel Hesltine introduced a new theory—that his father had been murdered by van Dieren, the sole beneficiary of Heseltine's 1920 will which stood to be revoked by the new one. This theory is not considered tenable by most commentators.
Heseltine was buried alongside his father, at Godalming cemetery, on 20 December 1930. At the end of February 1931 a memorial concert of his music was held at the Wigmore Hall; a second such concert took place in the following December.
On hearing of Heseltine's death, Delius wrote that "the terrible tragedy of poor Phil has really quite unstrung me ... we can think of nothing else." Sir Edward Elgar told Fenby that he "felt it just as much as Delius". On the loss to English music, Newman thought that some of Heseltine's choral compositions are "among the finest music written for massed voices by a modern Englishman." In a tribute published in The Musical Times, van Dieren referred to Heseltine's music as "a national treasure" that would long survive all that was currently being said or written about it.
Heseltine composed around 150 songs or vocal works that survive either in published or manuscript form. Mostly he wrote for solo voice with piano accompaniment, but there are several choral works, some with orchestral accompaniment, and a few purely instrumental pieces. There are also about 50 lost works, among which 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) which Gray records was destroyed on the advice of Delius. The music historian Stephen Banfield describes the songs as "polished gems of English art song forming a pinnacle of that genre's brilliant brief revival in the early 20th century ... [works of] intensity, consistency and unfailing excellence". Although the songs form his major legacy, Heseltine made a significant contribution to the 20th century renaissance of early English music, with well over 500 transcriptions in which, says Smith, "he showed a rare respect for the composers' intentions ... present[ing] only that which the composers had written without emendations or additions". He also wrote nine books, and a large number of general music articles and reviews. According to Delius's biographer Christopher Palmer, Heseltine influenced the work of fellow-composers Moeran and Orr, and to a lesser extent Lambert and Walton, primarily by bringing them within the Delius orbit. In the case of the latter pair, Palmer argues, "those reminiscences of Delius which crop up from time to time in [their] music ... are more probably Delius filtered through Warlock".
Many years later, Gray wrote of Heseltine: "In the memory of his friends, he is as alive now as he ever was when he trod the earth, and so he will continue to be until the last of us are dead". During his Eynsford years, Heseltine had provided his own intended epitaph:
In 2011 the art critic Brian Sewell published his memoirs, in which he revealed that he was Heseltine's illegitimate son, born in July 1931 seven month's after the composer's death. Sewell's mother, unnamed, was a Roman Catholic lover who refused Heseltine's offer to pay for an abortion. Sewell was unaware of his father's identity until 1986.
Warlock's compositions are nearly all songs and most of these are for solo voice and piano. There is a smaller, but still significant, number of pieces for voices — choral songs — although a few of these are arrangements of his solo songs.
He wrote little instrumental music, although the suite Capriol (October 1926) is probably his best-known work and exists in versions for string orchestra, full orchestra and piano duet. (There are arrangements for other combinations, but these are not by Warlock.) His only composition for solo piano is a set of arrangements of Celtic melodies, the "Folk-song preludes". He had a deep affinity for poetry, especially that of Yeats and his friends Robert Nichols and Bruce Blunt (1899–1957). He always chose texts of high artistic value, many of them from the Middle Ages, as basis for his songs.
Many people consider his greatest work to be the song-cycle The Curlew, for tenor and chamber ensemble, in which he sets four linked poems by Yeats. It is certainly his most substantial piece and was written over a long period of time — some seven years — taking in many stylistic changes along the way from the neo-Delianism of "The lover mourns for the loss of love" to sections within the longest song, "The withering of the boughs" that suggest Bartók and Schoenberg as influences before achieving a more idiosyncratic, modal, and genuinely Warlockian vocabulary.
Warlock's musical tastes were wide, from Renaissance music to Bartók. In his own works, we hear a development from emulation of the Victorian and Edwardian drawing-room style to a more contrapuntal, strongly personal idiom characterised by the relationship between modal lines and a distinctive palette of chords. He was unusual amongst composers of his generation in being largely unaffected by the folksong movement, either as an arranger (the above-named piano pieces being an exception) or a composer. He wrote only one folksong-orientated work, the cycle "Lilligay".
Apart from original works, Warlock edited and transcribed many lute songs by Elizabethan and Jacobean composers in addition to music by Purcell and other Baroque composers. He also did much to promote the music of Delius, especially by organising the successful Delius Festival of 1929 with Thomas Beecham. He wrote the first biography of Delius, as well as, with Cecil Gray, a book about Carlo Gesualdo. His book on The English Ayre was a ground breaking study, but he also wrote about contemporary music. His article on Arnold Schoenberg was probably the first substantial study in English of his music. In 1925, Warlock rediscovered the music of 16th century composer Thomas Whythorne, and published a book of his compositions and poetry.
Warlock also edited, under the pseudonym Rab Noolas (to be read backwards, i.e. Saloon Bar), an anthology on drinking "for the delectation of serious topers", entitled Merry-Go-Down (Mandrake Press, c. 1930).
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