Peter Heseltine was born in the Savoy Hotel in London on the 30th of October 1894, where his parents resided. His father died when he was just three years old – and his mother’s Welsh background led to a childhood partially based in Wales.
While at Stone House prep school in 1908, he had developed an interest in music and heard his first performance by Frederick Delius. The English composer became a major influence and enduring friend. He then began an unhappy school life at Eton, but found relief in music and especially the work of Delius – who he eventually met in 1911.
Heseltine took a break from his studies in October 1911, travelling to Cologne to learn German and study piano. He produced his first few songs there and hoped to make a career in music. But he yielded to his mother’s wishes and began to study classics at Oxford in 1913. He did not return after the summer break in 1914, enrolling instead at University College London. He left after he secured a job as a music critic with the Daily Mail in February 1915.
An unsettled couple of years saw him meet another major influence, the Dutch composer Bernard van Dieren. He also lived briefly with D.H. Lawrence in Cornwall, became a father, and first used the pseudonym, Peter Warlock. He moved to Ireland in 1917, where he pursued studies in Celtic language, folk-lore and magical practices. He wrote ten songs in the period, under the name Peter Warlock. Heseltine spent the next few years in musical journalism and criticism – before a move back to his Welsh childhood home in 1921. This was a period of intense creative compositional and literary activity when he completed some of his best-known music.
In 1924 he moved to Eynsford in Kent, where he acquired a reputation for wild living and debauchery. Nonetheless, he produced many literary and musical works, including a recording of his String Serenade for the National Gramophone Society.
Returning to London in 1928, he presided over some high-profile festivals and performances and began to edit the ILO journal. But the journal was closed in January 1930, and when other works failed to achieve the popularity of his earlier work, his final summer was marked by gloom and inactivity. He was found dead in his Chelsea flat on the 17th December 1930 aged 36.
He leaves a legacy of some 150 songs, mostly for solo voice and piano, together with some instrumental and choral pieces – as well as a vast body of literary works. His music remains well respected and highly influential to musicians of the period.