Walter James Redfern Turner (13 October 1884 – 18 November 1946) was an Australian-born, English-domiciled writer and critic.

Born in South Melbourne, the son of a church musician – organist at St Paul's Cathedral – and a warehouseman, Walter James Turner, and a woman of long golden hair, Alice May (née Watson), he was educated Carlton State School, Scotch College and the Working Men's College. In 1907 he left for England to pursue a career in writing. There he met and befriended a number of literary intellectual figures, including Siegfried Sassoon, Virginia Woolf, Vita Sackville-West, and Lady Ottoline Morrell (the caricature of her in his book The Aesthetes ended their friendship). On 5 April 1918, in Chelsea, he married Delphine Marguerite Dubuis (died 1951). During the period from the First World War until the mid-1930s, he was known primarily as a poet. His 1916 'Romance' ("Chimborazu, Cotopaxi....") is probably the best remembered of his poems.

W. B. Yeats had the highest praise for Turner's poetry, saying that it left him "lost in admiration and astonishment", and included some of it in his Oxford Book of Modern Poetry (while omitting several authors very much better known today for their verse, such as Wilfred Owen). But today, although Turner produced several novels and plays, as well as books of poems, his reputation rests on his musical biographies of Mozart, Beethoven and Berlioz. These are written in pithy, elegant prose, with great passion and penetration about these figures, whom he revered. His Mozart in particular has been reprinted many times in the 70 years since it was first published, and remains the best single volume to recommend for the general reader. Some of his musical articles for the New Statesman and other journals were reprinted in Music and Life, Facing the Music, Musical Meanderings, and Variations on the theme of Music. These are filled with iconoclastic views, diverging widely from the primarily bland tone of most musical criticism of its time (or indeed of most times).

Turner was a close friend of the pianist Artur Schnabel, about whom he frequently wrote, and with whom he frequently went hiking. He was a champion of Arturo Toscanini's conducting, which was for him a revelation in structure and expression. Siegfried Sassoon was another close friend of Turner, at least for a while. Turner, his wife, and Sassoon all cohabited a house on Tufton Street before Sassoon moved out in 1925. After this he fell out with Turner so badly that he made no mention whatsoever of him in his autobiography. During the Second World War, he edited a number of volumes about English culture. On 28 November 1946 he died at Hammersmith of a cerebral thrombosis.


Walter James Turner Poems


I saw a frieze on whitest marble drawn
Of boys who sought for shells along the shore,
Their white feet shedding pallor in the sea,
The shallow sea, the spring-time sea of green... more »

Walter James Turner Quotes

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