Heseltine and Delius

Havergal Brian

Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald

Cecil Gray’s biography of Philip Heseltine, a musician also known as Peter Warlock, has had considerable sympathetic press notice, but I doubt the response of the public to much of the fine writing. One blunt-spoken person said to me that Heseltine might have been a better musician, and certainly a better citizen, if he had leavened his musings with manual labour. Fine writing about some men produces effects not anticipated. I met Heseltine a few times during the Delius Festival, arranged a few years ago by Sir Thomas Beecham at Queen’s Hall.6 He seemed in his element, and I was able frankly to admire the success of his organisation and the power of his enthusiasm for Delius. But the trivialities about Peter Warlock are puerile, causing the blunt-spoken person to declare his belief that Peter Warlock was Heseltine in his ultimate development.

Let our memories be confined to Heseltine the composer and music critic, as I hope most of our thoughts are to Beethoven and his symphonies. The extraordinary circumstances of Heseltine’s association with Delius is that he was drawn to him like iron to the magnet. Though yet unskilled in music, he had a clear comprehension of the subtle art of Delius, that something which continues to elude most musicians. There was intuition of a rare kind, and his love for Delius became stronger and firmer as his mind developed and his experience extended. Delius, too, found something unusual in the first letters of his correspondent.

After mutual temerity and shyness were overcome, and the relations between the two resembled those of master and disciple, the two men poured out their inmost thoughts in a series of interesting letters. These reveal what the friends of Delius already knew, that behind his barrage of poetry and rural solitude, Delius was alert and wide awake, and his life as a composer was but a part of him: he was widely interested in world affairs. Strangely enough, there is in the letters little of the prejudice that generally simmered in all that Delius wrote. However, he seemed to be well up to his usual form when he wrote: ‘Don’t think that the public is any more rotten than it ever has been: it was always rotten, and there never has been an artistic period.’

  1. In October 1929. ↩︎

On the other hand, by La main gauche

Musical opinion, January 1935, p. 303