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Cecil William Turpie Gray (19 May 1895 – 9 September 1951) was a Scottish music critic, author and composer.


Born in Edinburgh, he took an arts degree at the University of Edinburgh and studied composition privately with the Anglo-Canadian composer Healey Willan. From there he developed his career as editor, music critic and author. His first musical venture was the co-sponsoring with Philip Heseltine in 1917 of a concert of works by the then completely unknown composer Bernard van Dieren. Three years later Gray co-founded the early music periodical The Sackbut, also with Heseltine - another writer/critic who also composed music under the name Peter Warlock. Gray subsequently worked as music critic for publications including The Daily Telegraph, The Manchester Guardian and The Morning Post, and occasionally for the Radio Times and The Listener.[1]

His first published book, A Survey of Contemporary Music was published in 1924, and was notable for its contrary opinions. Frank Howes, The Times chief music critic pointed out that the formula "so far from the usual view being true, the precise opposite is the case" occurs every few pages.[2] With Heseltine, Gray co-authored the characteristically perverse Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa: Musician and Murderer in 1926. A full, but equally unorthodox History of Music followed in 1928.[3] Gray was also an early advocate of Sibelius, championing his music in the UK from 1923 when it was still all but unknown there. He wrote two books on the composer in 1931 and 1935. His sympathetic portrayal of Heseltine/Warlock in his memoir of 1934 is thought by many to be his best literary work.[4] There were also two collections of essays, Predicaments (1936) and Contingencies (1947), a play about Gilles de Rais and an autobiography, Musical Chairs (1948).[5]

Musical worksEdit

Gray was also a composer,[6] but preferred to promote the music of his friends Constant Lambert, Peter Warlock and Bernard van Dieren above his own.[7] Hubert Foss said that not even his most intimate friends knew of his complete worth as a composer.[8] (In his autobiography Musical Chairs, Gray said that he was "regarded by musicians as a writer and by writers as a musician"). His first work was the Irish opera Deirdre, completed in 1937. It was never performed in its entirety, but Gray did extract from its third act the Symphonic Prelude for Orchestra (1945), which received several performances in England and the United States.[9] There were two other operas: The Temptation of St Anthony, (after Flaubert) (1937) [10] and The Trojan Women.[11] None of the operas were ever staged, but the BBC did broadcast music from The Trojan Women on 5 April 1944, conducted by Constant Lambert. [12] Like Heseltine/Warlock, Gray adopted a pseudonym for some compositions to thwart the enemies he'd made as a critic. Syllogism, or Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis for orchestra and female chorus was composed using the name Marcus Lestrange.[13] Gray's friend, the artist Michael Ayrton, remembered other works, including an Overture Roma Nobilis and a setting of Canticle of the Sun, but both appear to be lost.[14]

Personal lifeEdit

While living in Cornwall, where he was a neighbour of D. H Lawrence, Gray had a relationship with the American Imagist poet H.D. with whom he had a daughter, Perdita, in 1919. In her autobiographical novel Bid Me to Live H.D. portrayed Gray as the character "Vane".[15] The character "Cyril Scott" in Aaron's Rod (1922) by Lawrence was also based on Gray.[16] He was married three times, first (in 1927) to Natalia Mamontova, the daughter of Natalia Brasova. Their daughter Pauline was born in 1929. But the marriage did not last and Gray married again in 1936, to the Scottish ballet dancer Marie Nielson. Another daughter, Fabia, was born in 1938. His third marriage to Margery Livingstone Herbage in 1944 ended at her death in 1948. Among his grandchildren, through Perdita, was the author and Beatles biographer Nicholas Schaffner.[17]

Gray evidently had difficult relationships with women, something that is partly portrayed by Anthony Powell in his A Dance to the Music of Time sequence of novels - in particular the fifth volume Casanova's Chinese Restaurant. The characters of Maclintick and Gossege are said to form a composite portrait of Gray, though Powell also added echoes of Peter Warlock into the mix.[18]

A hard drinker with a cocaine habit Gray was a slow talker who warmed up and was not regarded as conventional "good company". However he maintained close relationships with many writers, poets, painters and musicians. In 1947 he and his wife Margery moved to the island of Ischia, and then to Capri. He became increasingly ill following Margery's death, returning to the UK in 1951 where he died of cirrhosis of the liver in a Worthing nursing home.[19] In 1989, the composer's daughter Pauline Gray put together a biographical sketch with selections from his notebooks.[20]


  • A Survey of Contemporary Music (London, 1924, 2nd edition 1927)
  • (with P. Heseltine), Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa: Musician and Murderer (London, 1926)
  • The History of Music (London, 1928)
  • Sibelius (London, 1931, 2nd edition 1934)
  • Peter Warlock: a Memoir of Philip Heseltine (London, 1934)
  • Sibelius: the Symphonies (London, 1935)
  • Predicaments: or Music and the Future (London, 1936)
  • The Forty-Eight Preludes and Fugues of Bach (Oxford, 1938)
  • Gilles de Rais: a play (1945)
  • Contingencies, and Other Essays (London, 1947)
  • Musical Chairs, or Between Two Stools: Being the Life and Memoirs of Cecil Gray (London, 1948)


  1. ^ Foss, Hubert, "Cecil Gray, 1895-1951", in The Musical Times Vol. 92, No. 1305 (Nov. 1951), pp. 496-498
  2. ^ "Mr Cecil Gray", The Times, 19 September 1951, p6
  3. ^ "Cecil Gray's 'History of Music', The Musical Times, 01 September 1928, Vol.69(1027), pp.833-833
  4. ^ "Mr Cecil Gray", The Times, 19 September 1951, p6
  5. ^ Cecil Gray: Musical Chairs
  6. ^ R. Gorer: ‘The Music of Cecil Gray’, Musical Review, 47 (1947), 188–96
  7. ^ "Bernard van Dieren, Philip Heseltine and Cecil Gray: A Significant Affiliation ", Davies, Hywel, Music & Letters, 1 January 1988, Vol.69(1), pp.30-48
  8. ^ Hubert Foss, "Mr Cecil Gray", The Times, September 26, 1951, p6
  9. ^ Gray, Pauline, introduction to Musical Chairs, 1985
  10. ^ "The Queen of Sheba" (from The Temptation of St. Anthony), Alexander Hart, Youtube
  11. ^ Frank Howes, "Cecil Gray" in Grove Music Online, 2001
  12. ^ Radio Times listing
  13. ^ British Library archive
  14. ^ Gray, Pauline, introduction to Musical Chairs, 1985
  15. ^ 'Hamalian, Leo, D.H. Lawrence and Nine Women Writers, 1996
  16. ^ M.C. Rintoul, Dictionary of Real People and Places in Fiction
  17. ^ Schaffner, Val. "Perdita Macpherson Schaffner (1919-2001)". Retrieved 23 February 2019.
  18. ^ Spurling, Hilary: Dancing to the Music of Time, Hamish Hamilton, 2017
  19. ^ Gray, Pauline, introduction to Musical Chairs, 1985
  20. ^ Pauline Gray: Cecil Gray, His Life and Notebooks, Thames Publishing, 1989

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