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Kirsty Warrick, a member of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, has written a song inspired by Virginia Woolf that she calls “The Shape That Remains.”
This video is available on YouTube, where Warrick describes it thus:
A song I wrote, composed performed and recorded a few years ago. It’s about the life and work of Virginia Woolf but was particularly inspired by her novel ‘To the Lighthouse’ and its recurring phrase and sentiment “Life stand still here”.
Thanks to Marielle O’Neill, executive council member of the society, for sharing this news via the VWoolf Listserv.

Read this post from 2012 to learn more about music inspired by Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.

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Max Richter’s release of his 33-minute ballet “Exiles” has been out for a year, but I just discovered it. On it, is “filler” that includes a previously unreleased outtake from his ballet “Woolf Works,” inspired by the writings of Virginia Woolf.

Of note for readers of Woolf is the eight-minute piece “Flowers of Herself,” which  provides an orchestral soundtrack for the opening of Woolf’s 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway. It includes the tolling of Big Ben by tubular bells and provides the musical energy of a bustling street scene as we imagine Clarissa winding through the streets of London on her walk to “buy the flowers herself.”

According to BBC World Service, as “One of his most intricate and attractive orchestral pieces, “Flowers” receives an outstanding performance by the young musicians of the Baltic Sea Philharmonic led by Kristjan Järvi.

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Sunday, I published a post about Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s wartime music — and its availability as a Spotify playlist, thanks to Marielle O’Neill. Today, I want to share additional resources related to Virginia Woolf’s musical tastes and their influence on her writing.

  • On the Virginia Woolf Podcast page on the Literature Cambridge website, listen to a 2021 podcast titled “Emma Sutton on Virginia Woolf and Classical Music.” In it, Emma Sutton talks to Woolf scholar and Literature Cambridge lecturer Karina Jakubowicz about Woolf’s fascination with classical music, as well as the importance of music in Woolf’s life and writing. Sutton, professor of English at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, is the author of Virginia Woolf and Classical Music (2013).
  • How Virginia Woolf’s Work Was Shaped by Music” (2021), by Emma Sutton, which is available on The Conversation website.
  • The Virginia Woolf & Music project, which “explores the role of music in the lives and legacies of Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group through concerts, research, workshops, public talks, exhibitions and commissions of new works of art.” The UK-based project was founded in 2015 and “embraces the feminist, pacifist and cosmopolitan spirit of the Bloomsbury Group.”

I always think of my books as music before I write them. – Virginia Woolf in a 1940 letter to the violinist Elizabeth Trevelyan

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Tomorrow is Memorial Day in the U.S., the day when we remember and honor those who died in the service of our country. Although I consider myself a pacifist, I feel a special sense of gratitude to those who fought in World War II, the conflict I often think of as “the Good War.”

I am not alone. Elizabeth D. Samet, author of Looking for the Good War: American Amnesia and the Violent Pursuit of Happiness (2021), explains that this “flattering and seductive narrative” regarding World War II took hold in the 1990s, around the time of the 50th anniversary of the conflict. And it has become engrained in American consciousness since then.

The U.S., ambivalence and isolationism

Samet makes the case for a different reality, one of American ambivalence about the war, as well as a reluctance to become involved.  The bombing of Pearl Harbor changed that, but it still did not result in universal American support. The ambivalence, differences of opinion, and different levels of support for the war existed before, during — and even after — U.S. involvement, she explains.

“The idea that we went to war specifically or primarily to liberate Europe is largely a fiction, even though we obviously helped to accomplish that feat,” Samet explains. “We went to war because we were attacked and because we felt suddenly that there was an existential threat.”

The lives of the Woolfs during World War II

Virginia and Leonard Woolf, living in London and Lewes during the war years, experienced deprivation, bombing, and enemy planes flying overhead, leaving them no choice but to support the war. Leonard was a member of the Home Guard. Virginia wove messages about war and its consequences into her writing. Most notable from the mid-1930s on are three novels: The Years (1937), Three Guineas (1938), and the posthumously published Between the Acts (1941), as well as essays such as “The Leaning Tower” (1940) and “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid” (1940).

Nevertheless, they tried to live their lives as normally as possible, despite the enemy planes that flew above their heads at Monk’s House. This passage from Leonard’s Downhill All the Way (1967), volume four in his five-volume autobiography, provides a good example.

I will end … with a little scene that took place in the last months of peace. They were the most terrible months of my life, for, helplessly and hopelessly, one watched the inevitable approach of war. One of the most horrible things at that time was to listen on the wireless to the speeches of Hitler — the savage and insane ravings of a vindictive underdog who suddenly saw himself to be all-powerful. We were in Rodmell during the late summer of 1939, and I used to listen to those ranting, raving speeches. One afternoon I was planting in the orchard under an apple-tree iris reticulata, those lovely violet flowers. … Suddenly I heard Virginia’s voice calling to me from the sitting room window: “Hitler is making a speech.” I shouted back, “I shan’t come. I’m planting iris and they will be flowering long after he is dead.” Last March, twenty-one years after Hitler committed suicide in the bunker, a few of those violet flowers still flowered under the apple-tree in the orchard.

The Woolfs and wartime music

As part of their effort to get on with their lives, the Woolf listened to music on the wireless, as well as on their gramophone. And now, thanks to Marielle O’Neill, doctoral researcher at Leeds Trinity University and Executive Council Member of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, we can listen in on the wartime music they enjoyed.

With the help of Stephen Barkway’s classical music expertise, O’Neill has created a playlist on Spotify of the Woolfs’ wartime music. She based her list on a purchase of Woolfs’ gramophone records made by Sheila Wilkinson, Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain co-founder.

Wilkinson purchased the records and their annotated storage box at a Lewes auction 20 years ago. According to Barkway, Leonard recorded — in his own shaky hand — the dates on which he and Virginia listened to each record on index cards cut in half. Wilkinson found four of these cards in the archive that corresponded with the records she had purchased.

Wilkinson donated the records to Charleston, who later sold them to the National Trust, which ultimately returned them to Monk’s House.

Listen to the Woolfs’ wartime music on Spotify

The Woolfs’ Wartime Music can now be accessed by everyone, thanks to O’Neill’s ingenuity. She has included old recordings that appeared on the 78 rpm records purchased from Monk’s House. They include music by Beethoven, Schubert, Mozart, and Brahms.

In addition, members of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain can read Barkway’s article about the Woolfs’ musical tastes around the time of the Second World War in the May issue of the society’s Virginia Woolf Bulletin. In “Some of the Woolfs’ Gramophone Records: A Spotify Playlist,” Barkway pairs the Woolfs’ musical selections with events from the Woolfs’ life, as well as with quotes from Virginia’s diary, letters, and autobiographical writing.

The article includes information that Wilkinson shared in a booklet she produced for delegates during a “Virginia in Yorkshire” study week in Settle. On the final night that week, Barkway introduced and played the Woolfs’ records at Wilkinson’s request.

Join the VWSGB

If you are not a member of the VWSGB but would like to be, you can easily join.

 

 

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Here is a roundup of music and movie news of interest to followers of Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury group.

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