Who Is Peter Warlock?


Peter Warlock Composer

Who is Peter Warlock? The name is probably not familiar to you, even if you are a self-proclaimed classical music buff. The short answer is Peter Warlock is Philip Heseltine.

Born in London in 1894, Heseltine was a music critic (and a combative one at that), editor, and founder of the musical journal The Sackbut. His critical writings were all listed with his given name, but he took on the pseudonym Peter Warlock for his music compositions.

Keep reading and you’ll also see, this wasn’t his only pseudonym!

Why the name Peter Warlock?

As a music critic, Heseltine had become known as a controversial figure, regarded with suspicion and hostility in the London music circle. So in 1918 when he sent seven recently composed songs to a publisher, he used the pseudonym Peter Warlock. The name is said to have originated from his involvement and interest in the occult.

Peter Warlock’s Music

Unlike many well-known composers, Peter Warlock was not formally trained in the area of music composition. He was largely self-taught, but he received encouragement from fellow English composers like Frederick Delius. His body of work consists mainly of songs for solo voice and piano and song cycles (150 of them) like The Curlew and Candlelight, but his Capriol Suite, in particular, stands out and remains his most popular composition.

The Capriol Suite is a set of dances originally written for piano duet. Warlock later scored it for both string and full orchestras. Written in 1926, it was based on tunes in Renaissance dances and in today’s world would be recognized as a sort of “throwback” piece with a few modern harmonies incorporated. It isn’t surprising that he would be inspired to write in an early English music form. Over his lifetime, he made well over 500 transcriptions of early works including compositions from Henry Purcell, John Dowland, and Thomas Ravenscroft. Though the work has six movements, it only takes about 10 minutes to perform. Be sure to check out our performance of it on February 23!

Warlock’s music generally well-received by the public and critics. Ralph Vaughan Williams was reportedly “delighted” with the reception of Warlock’s Three Carols which Vaughan Williams conductor in 1923. Heseltine/Warlock conducted a performance of the Capriol Suite in August 1929 – the only public conducting engagement of his life. The audience recalled him four times after that performance.

Peter Warlock’s Legend

The legend of Peter Warlock is surrounded by controversy and rumor. In addition to his combative and argumentative nature and his interest in the occult, he was said to have experimented with a variety of unconventional practices including cannabis tincture and flagellation. He was also said to enjoy composing obscene limericks and he even edited an anthology in praise of drinking under a new pseudonym, “Rab Noolas” which is “Saloon Bar” backwards.

Although the early 1920’s, particularly 1925-1929, were a fruitful time for Warlock, he found his creativity waning in 1929. Life became even bleaker in 1930 when there was little demand for his songs and he turned to music criticism and transcription again to support himself. He suffered from severe depression and in December 1930, he was found dead in his flat from gas poisoning. The coroner determined that there was insufficient evidence on whether it was suicide or an accident.

His life has inspired numerous characters in both literature and film. D.H. Lawrence based his character, Julius Halliday, on Warlock in the novel Women in Love. Warlock also inspired characters in Aldous Huxley’s Antic Hay and Jean Rhys’ short story “Till September Petronella”. His life was depicted in the films Voices From a Locked Room and Peter Warlock, Some Little Joy, although it was highly fictionalized in the former.

In 1963, the Peter Warlock Society was created and interest in his works began to increase. While some music experts acknowledge that his music today is often regarded as “programme filler” and encore items, his Capriol Suite is still performed frequently to this day. In fact, you can hear the Parker Symphony Orchestra perform it on February 23.

Handel’s “Messiah” FAQs



Handel's MessiahHandel’s “Messiah” is one of the most widely played pieces during the Christmas season and certainly the most popular oratorio (a musical composition for orchestra, choir, and soloists). It’s also, however, the subject of a wide variety of myths, misconceptions, and questions ranging from things as simple as its title to why we stand during the famous “Hallelujah” chorus.

Let’s take a moment to explore answers to these key frequently asked questions about “Messiah”.

What is Handel’s Messiah?

Handel’s “Messiah” is a large work for orchestra, choir, and solo singers called an oratorio. It was composed in 1741 and is typically performed around Christmas. The most famous part is the “Hallelujah” chorus which has been used in popular culture in movies, cartoons, and even commercials. While many people refer to it as “The Messiah”, its official name is just “Messiah”.

What is the story of Handel’s Messiah?

It doesn’t tell story. Instead, the libretto, written by Charles Jennens, is a series of contemplations on the Christian theme of redemption through the life of Christ. The work is in 3 parts: the first part foretells Jesus’ birth and the Christmas story, the second part leads up to and includes the crucifixion, and the third part talks about the spread of Christianity and eternal life. Interestingly, despite its Christian message, most of the text is from the Old Testament.

Where was Handel’s Messiah first performed?

Contrary to myths about London, it was actually first performed on April 13, 1742 in Dublin, Ireland as a charity concert benefiting three charities: prisoners’ debt relief, the Mercers Hospital and the Charitable Infirmary. Handel sought and was given permission from St. Patrick’s and Christ Church cathedrals to use their choirs and he even had his own organ shipped to Ireland for the performance. To ensure that the audience would be the largest possible, gentlemen were asked to remove their swords and women were asked not to wear hoops in their dresses. The takings from the concert were around £400 and each charity received about £127 which secured the release of 142 indebted prisoners.

Why do you stand for Handel’s Messiah?

Audiences typically stand only during the “Hallelujah” chorus. The reason for this has its origins in a legend that may or may not be true. The often repeated story is that King George II was so moved by the chorus during the London premiere that he rose to his feet. Because of protocol, the audience in attendance also stood and thus the tradition was born. However, many experts agree that there is no evidence that King George II was even in attendance at the premiere. Newspapers of the time did not mention his attendance and it would be unlikely they would leave out the detail of a royal presence. The first written documentation of this story was a letter written 37 years after the London premiere. The London premiere also received a rather cool reception unlike the Dublin premiere which was a hit. All of this has led to numerous debates and countless passive-aggressive battles between sitters and standers.

Why is Handel’s Messiah so popular at Christmas?

The premiere in Dublin was held in April and Handel himself associated “Messiah” with Lent and Easter. In fact, only one-third of the piece deals with Jesus’ birth and the Christmas story. So why is a piece that’s really an Easter work so popular during Christmas? Laurence Cummings, conductor of the London Handel Orchestra, once told Smithsonian Magazine that the custom may have come out of necessity stating that while there is so much fine Easter music like Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, there is little great sacral music written for Christmas. Regardless of the reason, “Messiah” has been a regular December staple since the 19th century, especially in the US.

How long is Handel’s Messiah?

Handel wrote the original version of “Messiah” in three to four weeks. Some accounts estimate just 24 days. We say “original version” because Handel rewrote parts to better meet the abilities of specific soloists and depending on availability of instruments. In 1789, Mozart re-orchestrated it to give it a more modern sound.

The time it took Handel to write the work is amazingly short when you consider the score is 259 pages. NPR music commentator Miles Hoffman estimated that there are roughly a quarter of a million notes in it which means Handel had to keep a continuous pace writing 15 notes per minute.

Typical performances of the entire “Messiah” are usually around 2 1/2 to 3 hours long.

8 Facts About Samuel Coleridge-Taylor




If you’re like me, when you heard the name Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, you thought, “Isn’t that the guy who wrote Rime of the Ancient Mariner? The English poet?” Nope, that’s Samuel Taylor Coleridge. However, Coleridge-Taylor’s mother did name him after the famous poet (he was born only 41 years after the poet died).

No, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was an English composer of numerous works including his most celebrated cantata, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, a piano quintet, a symphony, a once missing opera named Thelma, and his festive Christmas Overture which we will be performing in December.

Here are some other interesting facts about this British composer:

1. He earned the nickname the “African Mahler”. Coleridge-Taylor’s mother was English and his father was Dr. Daniel Peter Hughes Taylor, a Creole from Sierra Leone. His father descended from African-American slaves who were freed by the British and evacuated from the colonies at the end of the Revolutionary War.

2. He met President Theodore Roosevelt. On his first tour of the US, the composer was received by President Roosevelt at the White House which was a rare event for anyone of African descent.

3. He died young. Coleridge-Taylor was only 37 when he died from pneumonia. King George V granted his widow an annual pension which was considered evidence that he held the composer in high regard.

4. He wrote a work inspired by his near-namesake. Coleridge-Taylor wrote a piece called The Legend of Kubla Khan after the poem “Kubla Khan, Or, A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment”.

5. He almost didn’t attend college. The Royal College of Music hesitated over Coleridge-Taylor’s race, apparently worried that other students might object. Ultimately, he did admit Samuel at age 15 as a violin student. After 2 years, Samuel swapped violin for composition.

6. He was a pioneer in integrating African music in his music. He sought to do what Brahms had done with Hungarian music and Dvorak with Bohemian music by integrating African and traditions of the African diaspora into his compositions. Examples of this include his Four African Dances, Concert Overture, Toussaint L’Ouverture, and the Symphonic Variations on an African Air.

7. His Christmas Overture appeared posthumously. In 1925, Sydney Baynes arranged the work which features “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, “Good King Wenceslaus”, and “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” and is thought to have been derived from Coleridge-Taylor’s The Forest of Wild Thyme, a fairy drama for children.

8. Both of his children also had distinguished careers as conductors and composers. His son, Hiawatha, adapted his father’s works. His daughter, Gwendolyn, became a conductor and composer using the professional name Avril Coleridge-Taylor.