Dr Kate Kennedy - Dweller in Shadows: A Life of Ivor Gurney

Kate Kennedy

Dr KATE KENNEDY is a broadcaster and writer, who specialises in combining biography, words and music. She is a regular presenter and contributor for Radio 3, and her documentaries have been selected for Pick of the Week by the BBC, and Pick of the Year 2018. Her Sunday Features tell the stories of musicians and writers from 1600s to the present.  She is a regular contributor to Record Review, Building a Library, the Proms Plus series, Composer of the Week, The Essay and Music Matters, and has featured as the guest on Essential Classics.


Ivor Gurney ranked alongside Siegfried Sassoon and all the WW1 poets. He was an extraordinary English poet and composer whose life was haunted by fighting in the First World War and, later, confinement in a mental asylum.


Dr Kennedy presents the first comprehensive biography of this complex and conflicted man. Come and hear his incredible story and listen to his haunting songs.


Ivor Gurney (1890–1937) wrote some of the most-anthologized poems of the First World War and composed some of the greatest works in the English song repertoire, such as “Sleep.” Yet his life was shadowed by the trauma of the war and mental illness, and he spent his last fifteen years confined to a mental asylum. In Dweller in Shadows, Kate Kennedy presents the first comprehensive biography of this extraordinary and misunderstood artist.

A promising student at the Royal College of Music, Gurney enlisted as a private with the Gloucestershire regiment in 1915 and spent two years in the trenches of the Western Front. Wounded in the ARM and subsequently gassed during the Battle of Passchendaele, Gurney was recovering in hospital when his first collection of poems, Severn and Somme, was published. Despite episodes of depression, he resumed his music studies after the war until he was committed to an asylum in 1922. At times believing he was Shakespeare and that the “machines under the floor” were torturing him, he nevertheless continued to write and compose, leaving behind a vast body of unpublished work when he died of tuberculosis. Drawing on extensive archival research and spanning literary criticism, history, psychiatry and musicology, this compelling narrative sets Gurney’s life and work against the backdrop of the war and his institutionalisation, probing the links between madness, suffering and creativity.

Facing death in the trenches, Gurney hoped that history might not “forget me quite.” This definitive account of his life and work helps ensure that he will indeed be remembered.

Kate will be joined on stage by the very talented tenor, Dominic Bevan accompanied by pianist, Simon Over to bring some of Ivor Gurney’s songs to life. 


Kate Kennedy will be in conversation with Charlie Lee Potter, writer, artist, academic, former BBC radio and television journalist and author of the podcast, Inside A Mountain.

Friday 15th October | 6:30pm

Players Theatre, Thame, Oxfordshire

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