About this Recording
8.571372 - IRELAND, J.: String Orchestra Music (R. Wallfisch, Orchestra of the Swan, D. Curtis)

John Ireland (1879–1962)
Music for String Orchestra


John Nicholson Ireland was born in Bowdon near Manchester on 13th August 1879. His father, Alexander Ireland, was manager and publisher of the Manchester Examiner and his mother, Anne (Annie) Nicholson, was also an author and critic. At the age of 13 Ireland took himself to sit the examination for the Royal College of Music and shortly after his 14th birthday he entered the College as a student of piano, organ, rudiments of music and eventually composition, for four years under Charles Villiers Stanford.

His first success came in 1906 with his Phantasie in A minor for piano trio which was awarded second prize in the Cobbett chamber music prize, and then in 1909 with his First Violin Sonata which won first prize. During World War I he was rejected for military service on medical grounds and remained at his post as organist and choirmaster at St Luke’s, Chelsea until 1923, when he was appointed Professor of Composition at the RCM. His pupils included Benjamin Britten, E.J. Moeran, Richard Arnell, Alan Bush and Geoffrey Bush. He taught at the College until 1939 when he moved with his friend John Longmire to Guernsey in the Channel Islands. They had to leave Guernsey at very short notice when the Nazis invaded in June 1940. In 1953 Ireland bought a converted windmill near the village of Washington, West Sussex, within sight of his beloved Chanctonbury Ring. He died aged 82 on 17th June 1962 and is buried in Shipley churchyard in West Sussex.

Sonata in G minor
(arranged for cello and strings by Matthew Forbes)

Ireland’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor dates from 1923 and is in three movements marked moderato e sostenuto, poco largamente and con moto e marcato. It was first performed at the Aeolian Hall, London on 4th April 1923 by Beatrice Harrison (cello) and Evlyn Howard-Jones (piano). Ireland himself took part as pianist in many subsequent performances, many of which featured the Catalan cellist Antoni Sala, who also recorded it with the composer. Since then it has taken its place in the repertory of such prominent cellists as Ivor James, Florence Hooton, Anthony Pini, Julian Lloyd Webber, André Navarra, Derek Simpson, Emma Ferrand, Karine Georgian, Raphael Wallfisch, Alice Neary, Paul Watkins, Richard Jenkinson and Razvan Suma.

It is one of Ireland’s most expressive and passionate works. In the first movement, two clues suggest its possible significance: the first comes in bar 102 where, in a passage marked secreto, Ireland quotes the phrase that in his earlier setting of Aldous Huxley’s poem The Trellis accompanies the words ‘None but the flowers have seen/Our white caresses’. The second is at bar 137 where the repetitive cello figuration is played under a sequence of piano chords which has been identified as Ireland’s ‘passion’ motif that recurs at moments of climax in several works. At the time of writing the Cello Sonata and throughout the 1920s, Ireland maintained a close friendship with a boy in his late teens, Arthur Miller, to whom he dedicated several works and who was a central figure in his life at the time.

The slow movement unveils one of Ireland’s broad, songlike melodies in E flat (another occurs in In a May Morning). The finale erupts with violent, whip-like arpeggios, said to have been inspired by a set of Bronze Age round barrows at a remote spot on Ireland’s beloved South Downs.

Summer Evening
(arranged for strings by Graham Parlett)

This evocative piano piece was written in 1920.

In a May Morning
(arranged for strings by Graham Parlett)

When Ireland moved to Guernsey he embarked on a three-movement work for piano called Sarnia. The first movement, Le catioroc, was inspired by a stretch of coast adjacent to the house in which he and his friend John Longmire had lodgings, Fort Saumarez on the L’Eree peninsula. Later on he was offered the post of organist and choirmaster at St Stephen’s Church in St Peter Port. He moved to the Birnham Court Hotel very near the church. The second piece of Sarnia is In a May Morning, the inspiration for which was the Guernsey spring combined with the hotel owners’ young son, Michael Rayson, to whom the piece is dedicated.

(arranged for cello and strings by Graham Parlett)

This exquisite miniature was written for piano and published in 1922. The pianist Alan Rowlands, who got to know Ireland well in the 1950s and recorded Ireland’s complete piano music for the Lyrita label, recalls in his article ‘Meeting John Ireland’ in The John Ireland Companion edited by Lewis Foreman (Boydell Press, 2011) that when he was studying the work he felt a strong resemblance of the opening phrase to something else. He thought it might be something by Vaughan Williams. He asked Ireland, who replied that it was not by VW but cribbed from Butterworth’s setting of Housman’s poem Is my team ploughing. Rowlands also points out that Ireland used the same five-note figure in his setting of Housman’s The Lent Lily.

Bagatelle, Berceuse and Cavatina
(arranged for cello and strings by Graham Parlett)

These three short pieces, originally for violin and piano, were all composed between Ireland’s leaving the RCM and the outbreak of World War I. Written in a completely different style from his later music, they show Ireland to have been adept at producing charming and tuneful pieces often described as salon music in the manner of, say, Elgar’s Salut d’amour.

A Downland Suite
(arranged for strings by John Ireland/Geoffrey Bush)

In 1932 Ireland was commissioned to write the test piece for the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain. In 1941, after his return from Guernsey, he orchestrated the middle two movements, Elegy and Minuet, for string orchestra. In 1978 Geoffrey Bush orchestrated the two outer movements, Prelude and Rondo, and the complete work has established itself as one of Ireland’s most attractive compositions, especially the Minuet which has been used as a signature tune or background music for several radio and television programmes. Ireland also arranged the two middle movements for piano, and the Elegy has also been arranged for organ by Alec Rowley.

Bruce Phillips
John Ireland Charitable Trust

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