Ivor Gurney’s name has endured remarkably well for a man who went mad at an early age and was a war poet overshadowed (in fame, at least) by other war poets and a composer overshadowed by other composers. It is perhaps the bizarreness of Gurney’s life, as much as his unquestionable talent in not one but two forms of cultural expression, that causes him to continue to make an impression. This fine, well-researched and intelligent biography by Kate Kennedy will do much to promote the legend further. It has the advantage not just of being a chronicle of Gurney’s immensely sad life but also of containing thoughtful analyses of his poetry and music.
Gurney was a Gloucestershire boy of humble origins: his father was a tailor and his mother a seamstress. He had, however, prodigious musical talent. He was a chorister at Gloucester Cathedral from 1900 to 1906, where he studied under Herbert Brewer and developed a maverick quality that veered between genius