With just under three weeks to go until our summer concert, we’re taking a closer look at the charming Capriol Suite, by the British composer Peter Warlock.
This suite was originally composed in 1926 for Piano Duet and later orchestrated for string orchestra and full orchestra. The pieces are loosely based on a set of dances in a book published in 1588 by the French composer Thoinot Arbeau. This name was in fact an anagram of the name of a Canon at Langres Cathedral who found it expedient to publish a secular work under a nom-de-plume.
Warlock’s Capriol Suite consists of six contrasting movements:
Basse Danse: a lively dance in which the feet glide over the floor. Warlock uses three of Arbeau’s tunes, each orchestrated differently.
Pavane: a more stately dance.
Tordion: similar to the Basse danse in mood, but faster.
Bransles: originally a country dance, taken up by the gentry. Warlock uses five of Arbeau’s tunes here, building in speed and excitement to a frenzy.
Pieds-en-l’Air: the distinguishing feature of this dance is that the feet should move so gently that they barely touch the floor. This is the most lyrical movement, providing calm before the finale.
Mattachins: a sword dance. This exhilarating movement is march-like and concludes with dramatic discordant clashes!
In a interesting parallel with his French predecessor, ‘Peter Warlock’ is in fact a pseudonym used by Philip Arnold Heseltine, under which he published all of his compositions. The Warlock name was chosen to reflect his interest in the occult.
Born in London in 1894 to a wealthy family, Heseltine had a fascinating life. He studied at Eton, a place he is recorded to have ‘loathed’. He found comfort in music and developed a passion for the music of composer Frederick Delius, almost to the point of obsession. He was introduced to and became friends with the older man, who lived in France, near to Heseltine’s uncle. Delius became the first strong formative influence of Heseltine’s career as a composer.
Heseltine had a limited formal musical education and worked as a music critic and journalist for some years before turning more to composing. He became friends with composers such as Bartok, E J Moeran, Walton, and Constant Lambert.
His extremely bohemian lifestyle in the late 1920s was followed by a period of depression and he died of coal-gas poisoning in 1930 at the age of 36, most likely by suicide. The art critic Brian Sewell (born in 1931, seven months after Heseltine’s death) revealed in 2011 that he was the illegitimate son of Philip Heseltine.
Peter Warlock’s legacy includes around 150 songs, many for voice and piano. He also wrote choral pieces, some with instrumental or orchestral accompaniment, and a few purely instrumental works. His Capriol Suite is one of his most well-known and loved pieces.
New Forest Orchestra will be performing Warlock's Capriol Suite and other pieces at their concert in Lymington on Saturday 29 June. Tickets are available online now.