Monday, 4 November 2013

William Denis Browne

I caught a very beautiful song setting on Radio 3 yesterday, by a composer I'd never heard of. You can listen to it here, sung by Ian Bostridge -  Richard Lovelace's Gratiana Dancing and Singing, set to music  by William Denis Browne.
  Browne, I have since learnt, was killed in action in the Gallipoli campaign, at the age of just 26, shortly after having buried his close friend from schooldays, Rupert Brooke (who refused to take up his commission unless Denis Browne was given one too). Browne, full of promise as a composer, pianist, organist, teacher and music critic, was briefly a favoured student of the great Busoni, until (in Wikipedia's words) 'excessive piano practice led him to injure his hand'.
  Denis Browne chose the site for Brooke's grave and was with him when he died of septicaemia. In Browne's wallet, which he passed on to a petty officer before dying of his wounds (his body was never found), was a note to his friend and mentor Edward Marsh, which began 'I’ve gone now too; not too badly I hope. I’m luckier than Rupert, because I’ve fought. But there’s no one to bury me as I buried him, so perhaps he’s best off in the long run...'
  Here are the words of Lovelace's poem:
See! with what constant motion
Even and glorious, as the sunne,
Gratiana steeres that noble frame,
Soft as her breast, sweet as her voyce,
That gave each winding law and poyze,
And swifter then the wings of Fame.
She beat the happy pavement
By such a starre-made firmament,
Which now no more the roofe envies;
But swells up high with Atlas ev'n,
Bearing the brighter, nobler Heav'n,
And in her, all the Dieties.
Each step trod out a lovers thought
And the ambitious hopes he brought,
Chain'd to her brave feet with such arts,
Such sweet command and gentle awe,
As when she ceas'd, we sighing saw
The floore lay pav'd with broken hearts.
So did she move: so did she sing:
Like the harmonious spheres that bring
Unto their rounds their musick's ayd;
Which she performed such a way,
As all th' inamour'd world will say:
The Graces daunced, and Apollo play'd.

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