1890 - 1937
Throughout his life, Gurney wrote hundreds of poems and songs, and even some instrumental music. His most well-known compositions are his Five Elizabethan Songs, (or as he called them, 'The Elizas'). Many critics notice the influences of Schubert and Schumann in his work, however note that his music didn't fit in with the popular genre of folk music at the time, and rather had a powerful and intense use of harmony and melody. This is true of one of his songs from The Five Elizabethan Songs: 'Sleep'. The text talks about Gurney's longing to live inside his dreams, as for him, reality was sometimes too much to bare, this is seen particularly in the phrase, 'lock me in delight a while'. The text reads:
Come, sleep, and with thy sweet decieving lock me in delight a while;
Let some pleasing dream beguile all my fancies; that from thence
I may feel an influence all my powers of care bereaving!
Though but a shadow, but a sliding, let me know some little joy!
We that suffer long annoy are contented with a thought through an idle fancy wrought:
O let my joys have some abiding, o let my joys have some abiding.
The piece starts with the back and forth, longing motions of quavers on the piano, almost as if mimicking the motions of the singers eyes fluttering in and out of sleep. The minor key creates beautiful moments of light and joy when Gurney moves to the major. The simplicity of the piano accompaniment is constant throughout, and never takes away from the text or the singer, only enhancing it with Gurney's typical use of imaginative and yearning harmonies. The piece climaxes on the words, 'O let my joys have some abiding', even repeating the phrase once more before the end of the piece to emphasise the desperation of the singer. The very end of the piece really is the icing on top of the cake, as the piano pauses on a major dominant pedal, resolving onto a major chord - as if to imply that the singer has happily fallen asleep.
Ivor Gurney's 'Sleep' from The Five Elizabethan Songs, performed by Ian Bostridge