A song titled Ireland is the earliest extant work by Glanville-Hicks. In 1931 the Australian Musical News claimed it was a setting of Herrick, but the manuscript score reveals that the poem’s author was the Irish-born poet David McKee Wright. Taken from Wright’s “Dark Rosaleen” suite, it was published in An Irish Heart of 1918. The title refers to Wright’s own nostalgia for “my country”, having emigrated at the age of eighteen to New Zealand.
Wright’s range was wide, writing ethereal lines about angels and gods, about the “lustrous hair” of a lover and, by contrast, about life as a shepherd and rabbiter, “Long, weary days and nights without a smoke”. He could also depict modern urban life: “The trams are shrieking down the wire; Wild motor-cars, with stench and horn, / Speed on the large, inflated tyre, / Raising a dust of pride and scorn”.
“Dark Rosaleen” however is a very personal statement of longing for the country of his birth. The poem describes how “God made Ireland for love, / With a green dress trailing on the sea, / And one star less up above, / But the Dark Rosaleen for me”. There are images of his birthplace, Ballynaskeagh, and recollections of corn fields, apple blossoms and the song of thrushes. There are even references to music,
And always to feel and know
In the music’s ebb and flow
That you are the heart of all,
As you are the heart of me
PGH chose a stanza of reminiscence that could refer to the countryside anywhere in the British Isles,
Mist over a far sea
And fields purple and green;
And ’tis there surely that I would be
With the old things seen,
With the old things I remember,
And the old things I forget,
By the turf fire of December
Or the June hedges wet
The poem may have been her choice, but it seems likely that she found An Irish Heart on the bookshelf at home. For a brief period, both Wright and Ernest Glanville-Hicks lived in Wellington, the financial and cultural hub of New Zealand. Wright moved from Oamaru to Wellington in 1900 as a Congregational minister. The local Free Lance described him as “the young man with the luxurious auburn hair” and “member of a literary family”. PGH’s father was to become a journalist on the Free Lance after his arrival in New Zealand in about 1904, and as an aspiring poet himself he could not fail to have noticed the poet of the much anthologised poem “Wellington”, whose words were etched onto the doors of city trams. Wright left Wellington after a year but returned in 1907 to report on politics for the New Zealand Mail. Whereas he was increasingly interested in socialism, Ernest Glanville-Hicks was a prominent Liberal, in 1908–9 Minister for Lands and then premier in the mimic legislature known as the Union Parliament, a proving ground for anyone interested in standing for parliament. He married in 1909 and in mid-1910 moved to Rotorua to manage the Rotorua Times. It was in Rotorua that he published a book of poetry, Songs of a Season. Wright by then had emigrated to Sydney where he established a reputation as the literary editor of the Bulletin.
Wright died in 1928, only a few years before Ireland was composed. A few years later when PGH herself began exploring the English countryside she too wrote about moments of euphoria on summer days and the glories of walking on Ide Hill, where the views of fields and woods and the sounds of cuckoos had been the same for hundreds of years. This was her pastoral moment, the realisation of dreams of travel and freedom probably held since childhood, and perhaps the happiest time of her life.
PGH had never shown any interest in early music until she met the wealthy Connecticut-born conductor, linguist and musicologist Newell Jenkins in 1953. He quickly became a close friend, who wrote amusingly quixotic letters referring to Virgil Thomson as “Voigil” and constantly sent her expressions of love and encouragement. In the summer of 1955 she visited Jenkins, living on the Via delle Coste in Fiesole, outside Florence. Among the colony of expatriate composers then living in Florence were Ned Rorem and David Diamond, but Jenkins was there for rehearsals and recordings with his chamber orchestra, Piccola Academia Musicale, managed by another American, Jack Murphy. After a brief stay in Fiesole in June PGH travelled to discuss her operas with publishing houses in Germany and then returned to Fiesole before accompanying Murphy and Jenkins on a visit to the island of Giglio, famous for its coves, caves, shipwrecks and sandy beaches.
They moved to Bellosguardo a week later, where the orchestra was recording in the Villa Mercedes on Piazza Bellos. Designed in the fifteenth century by a follower of Michelangelo and purchased in the nineteenth century by an American it was now owned, according to Glanville-Hicks, by a woman from New England. Perhaps she didn’t know that Henry James had been a frequent visitor, along with other Anglo-American expatriates who appeared in his fiction.
In the novel Roderick Hudson, the villa appears as Villa Pandolfini: “It offered to the outer world a long rather low façade coloured a dull, dark yellow…. The garden was a charming place. Its southern wall was curtained with a screen of orange-blossoms, a dozen fig trees here and there offered you their large leafed shade, and over the low parapet the soft grave Tuscan landscape kept you company”. In Portrait of a Lady James described the villa as “a long, rather blank-looking structure, with the far-projecting roof which Tuscany loves and which, on the hills that encircle Florence, when considered from a distance, makes so harmonious a rectangle with the straight, dark, definite cypresses that usually rise in groups of three or four beside it. The house had a front upon a little grassy, empty, rural piazza which occupied a part of the hill-top; and this front, pierced with a few windows in irregular relations and furnished with a stone bench lengthily adjusted to the base of the structure and useful as a lounging-place to one or two persons wearing more or less of that air of undervalued merit which in Italy, for some reason or other, always gracefully invests any one who confidently assumes a perfectly passive attitude—this antique, solid, weather-worn, yet imposing front had a somewhat incommunicative character. It was the mask, not the face of the house”.
For the summer Jenkins had hired the villa to record what PGH called a “lost repertory” of early music by composers such as Sammartini, Hummel, Stamitz and Clementi, all resurrected from the hundreds of microfilms Jenkins had collected from archives in libraries, churches and private collections. In an article published in Hi-Fi at Home, she described Jenkins, his “energy, impeccable taste, scholarship, and that peculiar brand of courage that is part of American know-how”. The orchestra, she said, were some of the best musicians of northern Italy and the soloists Carlo Bussotti, Antonio Abussi and Sidney Gallesi were “well and truly on the musical map for the exquisite musicians they are”. She included photos, of the courtyard filled with tubs of flowers and the cars, bicycles and scooters of the musicians. Recordings were in a great hall with a vaulted ceiling and stone floors which created perfect acoustics; the recording equipment was housed in the chapel. The experience of being present in this exquisite villa, listening to rarefied music played by exceptional musicians was indescribably chic, though overshadowed for PGH herself by the news of the death of her father.
Today the villa still stands in a vacant piazza, still painted a dull yellow with royal blue shutters, its windows too high to see into, the doors to the courtyard closed to cars. In summer it smells of jasmine and traditional cooking, much as it must have done in 1955.
Probably the most amusing of all the concerts PGH attended and reviewed for the New York Herald Tribune was Anna Russell’s in 1951. With a reputation for skewering the classics, especially Wagner, Russell appeared before a capacity audience at Town Hall singing various operatic arias and folk songs. An extract from the operetta The Prince of Philadelphia provoked “howls of merriment”, the Russian song “Da, nyet, Da, nyet” “reduced the audience to near hysteria” and a French song, in PGH’s words, flaunted “every cliché and near cliché of Frenchness in music, while the text with lunatic limpidity flows from ‘la plume’ to ‘filet mignon’ with every semblance of logic”. A Wagnerian aria performed with appropriate props—a winged helmet, corn-coloured pigtails and toasting fork—was also received with “hurricanes” of laughter.
PGH provided a hint, though, that she knew more than she was giving away, when she referred to Miss Russell’s “clipped British accent” and “tremendously thorough musical training” for both she and Russell had studied composition with Vaughan Williams at the Royal College of Music. As they were born a year apart (Russell on 27 December 1911 and PGH on 29 December 1912) and both were at the RCM for four years it seems likely that they were contemporaries and would have known one another. Russell, however, was perhaps not as serious a composer as PGH: in her memoirs she recalled that she was such a capable mimic that Vaughan Williams asked her to refrain from writing in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan because the tunes were so catchy they were interfering with his own composing (which at the time included his very bleak fourth symphony, completed in 1935).
Whereas some critics might have been condescending in their review, PGH was quite the opposite, concluding, “There is not too much humor around these days, and certainly not of a kind to combine every facet of the art from pure slapstick to the most erudite. Miss Russel’s [sic] mad recitals are sheer joy, and cannot be too highly recommended”. Russell went on to have a spectacular career, appearing in operas and on Broadway, recording several bestselling albums and touring South Africa and Australia, where she died in 2006.
This photo, held in the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington, New Zealand, shows the wreck of the Weathersfield, the ship sailed by PGH’s grandfather, John Hicks. The foundering of the ship in 1888 was the trigger for John Hicks, his wife and eight children to emigrate from the Scillies, off Cornwall, to Melbourne, where another branch of the Hicks family had already settled. The Scilly Islands are known as a holiday retreat for the royal family and prime ministers, now easily accessible by air from Penzance. But in the nineteenth century the inhabitants of the most populous island, St Mary’s, were isolated from the mainland by a forbidding 36-mile stretch of water. Those on the smaller island of St Agnes to the south were even more isolated, surrounded by treacherous ledges and steeples although in the path of the gulf stream that brought them a climate mild enough to protect them from frost and snow in the winter. Hicks families had probably lived on the islands since they were purchased by the Godolphin family in the sixteenth century, most of them on St Agnes.
By the 1820s intermarriage had ensured that half of those living on the island were Hicks, said to be courageous, self-reliant and combative. Until the St Agnes lighthouse was built in 1858 many of the menfolk were pilots, each pilot boat operating with a crew of eight. PGH’s great-great-grandfather Amor Hicks (b. 1784) was a Trinity House pilot, as was his son-in-law and nephew. In the 1840s there might be as many as 200 ships anchored offshore, needing fresh stores, mail services and pilotage. Once the shipbuilding industry developed on St Mary’s, however, men such as PGH’s great-grandfather James Hicks gravitated to the shipyards on the beach and by 1841 there were 41 classed as shipwrights as well as sail makers, stone cutters, masons and joiners. The men could own a small percentage of the ship’s value, perhaps a 64th, and might take a profit on its voyage to China for rice and tea, to the Black Sea for grain and to Australia for wool.
PGH’s grandfather John Hicks was apprenticed as a shipwright when he was about thirteen, in 1860. By this time 48 ships had been built in the Scillies and the industry was beginning to decline with the onset of steam. It might have been grandfather Hicks who was one of the apprentices who set out on a pilot gig with five pilots, a captain and several other apprentices, only to offload all of the men until only John Hicks was left to sail the gig home. His journey is remembered in the history of the islands because he reached St Mary’s safely but put the bow of the gig through the front window of the Atlantic Hotel. On another occasion John Hicks was said to have piloted the Sunbeam, the yacht of Lord Brassey, later governor of Victoria, and John’s son Ernest remembered him being given a copy of Lady Brassey’s bestselling book A Voyage in the Sunbeam (1878).
John Hicks spent most of his career as a ship’s carpenter on the Weathersfield, an iron ship built in Glasgow and sailed with a Scillonian crew. Its first journey to New Zealand was in 1882, the ship commanded by Captain Sherris (or Sherries), a Scillonian. It was a dangerous and at times terrifying occupation, and John Hicks’s grandchildren remember him telling them that at times when he was climbing the rigging of the ship in a gale off the coast of South America he dreamed of being able to retire from sailing. On the Scillies, as shipbuilding declined, the flower industry developed, prospering from the islands’ mild climate and abundance of wild narcissus and daffodils. Flowers would be sent by steamer and then train the 350 miles to London, millions of them per year. But instead of farming or participating in the new industry many of the Hicks family left. Of PGH’s parents’ generation, several went to London to run a bookshop, some to Portsmouth to work as shipwrights, some of them became customs boatmen and others left when they married. John Deason, born on the island of Tresco, emigrated to Australia during the gold rush and is famous for having found the “Welcome Stranger” nugget, which weighed 66 kilograms and was valued at £9,000.
There are plenty of former Scillonians with the surnames of Mumford, Edwards, Jenkins, Ellis and Hicks in Victorian genealogical records and Richard Trevellick is remembered as one of the agitators for the eight-hour day. John Hicks must have considered leaving the islands as well. By 1888 he had a very large family and for their education, if nothing else, they must have looked to emigrate. Early in 1888 the Weathersfield sailed for Lyttleton in New Zealand with 450 tons of ballast, expecting to load a cargo of wheat. Early on the morning of 9 April 1888 the ship ran aground on the west coast of the north island. According to the papers there were no injuries and the crew landed safely. The local Hawera paper reported that “There is little to say of this further addition to the already many ill-fated vessels whose timbers bestrew the dismal beach between Paikakariki and the Manawatu river”. Its landing point was only five miles from where the Hyderabad had run aground ten years earlier, the remnants of that wreck still visible today. Captain Sherris reported that the Weathersfield had been becalmed off Cape Farewell and then, unable to find his position, found himself thirty miles off course. The subsequent inquiry found that there was a strong current in the Wanganui bight, not reported in navigation manuals, allowing the captain to be absolved of all blame. The inquiry recommended that a lighthouse be built on Stephen’s island, which was completed in 1894. After the wreck the Weathersfield lay on Otaki beach for four years, so this photo was taken sometime between 1888 and 1892. In the meantime John Hicks resumed his career as a shipwright at Duke & Orr in the centre of Melbourne. When his children left the Scillies for Australia they must have sailed directly to Portsmouth because they later claimed that they had never set foot on the English mainland.
Workers at Duke & Orr, or “Duke’s Dock” in the dock in Melbourne, c. 1900. PGH’s grandfather, John Hicks, is the bearded man seated in the centre. The men in suits are likely to be his brother-in-law, the dockmaster John Vickery Legg, and his nephews Jim and Gus Duke. Archives of Duke & Orr, University of Melbourne Archives.
PGH was always interested in the design of her scores and record covers. She drew an elaborate cover for her first opera, Caedmon (1936), which resulted from her researches on early Medieval England. Her interest in book covers seems to have been revived from 1945 during her relationship with Paul Bowles, who mixed with the circle of writers and artists associated with Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler’s avant-garde magazine View, published in New York from 1940 to 1947. Several issues of View in fact remain in her archive. Among the contributors to the journal that she knew, in addition to Bowles himself, were the artists Brion Gysin and Alexander Calder and she was to set the poetry of Wallace Stevens, subject of an interview in View’s first issue.
In 1949 Hargail published Glanville-Hicks’s Ballade, three settings of Bowles probably dating from 1947, with a surrealist cover drawn by Bowles (a facsimile appears in Peggy Glanville-Hicks: Composer and Critic). When Bowles’s first novel, The Sheltering Sky, was published at the end of that year by New Directions, James Laughlin (founding publisher of New Directions) commissioned a dust jacket from Alvin Lustig (1915–55). Laughlin later reported that “watching him play with a pencil on a drawing pad, I thought that he had some special magic in his hands. Only at the end [of his life], when I knew he could not see the forms evolving on paper, did I realize that his creative instinct was akin to that of the poet or composer. The forms took shape in his mind, drawn from a reservoir seemingly as inexhaustible as that of a Klee or Picasso”. Others describe his unique visual vocabulary and consider him to have been ahead of his time because of his typographic experiments and ability to symbolise the book’s contents in abstract, geometrical designs—compare Lustig’s design with the exoticism of the dust jacket for the Lehmann edition of the same year.
Another of Lustig’s dust jackets was the one for the New Directions edition of Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell, the subject of the ballet Glanville-Hicks composed in 1967 and perhaps the edition she and John Butler used in their preparation of a scenario.
More interestingly, when she came to compose the libretto for her opera The Transposed Heads, completed in 1953, she may have drawn on the Lowe-Porter translation published in New York in 1941. For that edition the title was printed within a large black box bordered by a creeping vine. The only colour note is some brown along the spine. A far more striking edition, however, was published in 1959. By then Glanville-Hicks had become the first American woman to win a commission for an opera, her opera based on Mann’s story had been premiered in Louisville, broadcast all over the country and then revived in New York, and the piano-vocal score had been published by AMP.
In the wake of these achievements—possibly even as a result of them—Vintage commissioned a design from the art director and graphic designer Paul Rand, one of the most famous American designers of the century. In 1945 Rand had redesigned the logo for Knopf and in the same year his first dust jacket for Knopf was Mann’s Tables of the Law. Steven Heller describes the image as “a dramatically lit, mortised photograph of the head of Michelangelo’s ‘Moses’ partially covering the stacked lines of gothic type, which screamed out, ‘The Law.’ The solid brown background did not fill the entire image area but like a window shade stopped before reaching the jacket’s bottom, leaving a channel of white space that gave an illusion of three-dimensionality against the base of the image. The jacket’s ad hoc quality gives an impression that Rand cut and pasted the art and type together in an instantaneous burst of creative energy reminiscent of a Dada collage. In fact, he labored over his solution until he achieved the appearance of an accident, everything was precisely composed, yet slightly off kilter”. Rand’s cover for Nicholas Montserrat’s Leave Cancelled (1945) was even more adventurous, incorporating bullet holes die-cut through the paper, something strikingly different to the Vintage jacket for the same book, depicting a naked woman lying between sheets in bed.
It is easy to see why booksellers were astonished at the boldness and striking colour of Rand’s covers, beautifully exemplified by the cover of the 1959 paperback edition of Mann’s The Transposed Heads. Combining blocks of vivid pink and orange—emblematic of the rich colours associated with Indian life and culture—with the lower square representing a patterned fabric such as seen in Indian block prints. The casually handwritten text is superimposed on a symmetrical hourglass shape representing the symmetry of the tale’s transposed heads and bodies. The design is signed by Rand in the upper right-hand corner.
Perhaps PGH learned from the designers of View and New Directions, and the example of Rand, how the cover could promote the modernity of the contents. When the recording of her opera Nausicaa was released with a dim black photo on the cover she railed against the design, griping that she never got the covers she hoped for and that if only her blue-and-white design had been used it would have increased the recording’s saleability. She would have been gratified to see that the cover of the 1995 CD recording of Nausicaa reinstated her colour scheme, the text laid among geometric boxes and superimposed over a shadowy white sculpture of a headless woman, thereby symbolising the women of ancient Greece.
View, May 1946. Cover by Jean Helion.
Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky. New Directions, 1949. Cover by Alvin Lustig.
Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky. John Lehmann, 1949.
Arthur Rimbaud, A Season in Hell. New Directions, 1945. Design by Alvin Lustig.
Thomas Mann, The Transposed Heads. Knopf, 1941.
Thomas Mann, The Transposed Heads. Vintage, 1959. Cover by Paul Rand.