IRELAND: Piano Works, Vol. 2 (John Lenehan) (Naxos: 8.553889)
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Piano Music Volume 2
The English composer John Ireland often complained of what he perceivedas a lack of attention to his work. Nevertheless, during his lifetime, he hadhis fair share of exposure, although this has certainly been followed bysubsequent neglect. He was born in 1879, the son of Alexander Ireland, a nativeof Edinburgh and business manager and publisher of the Manchester Examiner. Hismother, also from Scotland, was his father's second wife and thirty years herhusband's junior. Ireland had some of his early education at Leeds GrammarSchool, but at the age of thirteen, without his parents' knowledge, presentedhimself for audition at the Royal College of Music, where one of his sisterswas already studying. He was accepted by the College, intending to become aconcert pianist and also taking organ lessons with Sir Walter Parratt, organistof St George's Chapel, Windsor. Two years later he persuaded Stanford to accepthim as a composition pupil. In the following years, while he attempted toestablish himself as a composer, Ireland, supported by the money he had by theninherited from his parents, earned an additional living for himself as anorganist and choirmaster, establishing lasting friendships with some of the boysin his charge. He settled in Chelsea, dividing his time between London, aretreat in Deal and regular visits to the Channel Islands. After the war hejoined the teaching staff of the Royal College. There he continued to exerciseinfluence on generations of students. In 1927 he made a brief attempt atmarriage. His wife, a student some thirty years his junior, proved asunsuitable a partner as Tchaikovsky's had fifty years earlier, and the marriagewas quickly annulled.
In common with other musicians, Ireland suffered disruption to his lifein 1939. He had at first thought to find peace in the Channel Islands, to beevacuated to safety when the surrender of France became imminent. He spent muchof the war lodging with a clergyman he had first known as a young choirmasterand once the war was over returned to Chelsea, until London became impossiblefor him. He spent his final years in Sussex, where he died in 1962.
With his long connection with the Church of England and its liturgy,Ireland wrote music for services, hymns and carols. He also added to Englishvocal repertoire in a valuable series of solo songs and choral works. Works forchorus and orchestra include These Things Shall Be and Greater LoveHath No Man, both of which won success. Orchestral compositions include a PianoConcerto, Concertino pastorale for string orchestra and the symphonicrhapsody Mai-Dun, inspired by the British defence of Maiden Castleagainst the invading Romans in A.D. 43. With some labour he completed a scorefor the film The Overlanders, one of his last major achievements, andadded to chamber music repertoire, with a Viola Sonata for LionelTertis, two Violin Sonatas, the second for Albert Sammons, a CelloSonata that Casals planned to take into his repertoire and a FantasySonata for the clarinettist Frederick Thurston. For the piano, essentiallyhis own instrument, Ireland wrote a quantity of music, one sonata and someforty short lyrical pieces. His most popular composition, The Holy Boy, inspiredby one of his choristers, was originally a piano piece but underwent varioustransformations. His thought was much influenced by the Celtic mysticism of thenovels of Arthur Machen, haunted by the ghosts of Roman Britain, and he alsofound affinity with the poems of A.E. Housman and the novels and poems ofThomas Hardy.
Merry Andrew, written in 1918, is dedicated to the pianist WilliamMurdoch, who had taken part in the first performance of Ireland's SecondViolin Sonata a year before. The caprice suggested by the title is borneout in the music, which offers a contrast of mood and key in a central section.
The Towing Path, written in the same year, was suggested by the ThamesValley and the riverside village of Pangbourne. The piece offers an idyllicpicture, in its prevailing lilting rhythm. The Rhapsody of 1915 lacksany overt extra-musical connection, with its strongly rhythmic opening, gentlylilting chords and final tranquillity.
April and Bergomask were published in 1925. The second of these pieceswas to mark the birthday of the choirboy Arthur Miller, son of a Chelseaantique-dealer, on 22nd February, 1925. The first is gentlyevocative and the second suggests, at least in part, the rhythms of the dance.
The three pieces that constitute Decorations were published in1915 and reflect earlier visits to the Channel Islands. The first of the set, TheIsland Spell, was started during a holiday in Jersey in August, 1912,inspired by Le Fauvic beach. After work on the piece at home in Chelsea, hecompleted it in Jersey the following year. It has a quotation from ArthurSymons at its head:
"I would wash the dust of the world in a soft green flood:
Here, between sea and sea, in the fairy wood, I have found a delicate,wave-green solitude..."
The chiming of a bell is heard over the gentle sound of the water,leading to a dramatic climax, before the sound dies away once more.
The second piece, Moon-Glade, is again headed by verses of ArthurSymons.
"Why are you so sorrowful in dreams?
I am sad in the night;
The hours till the morning are white,
I hear the hours' flight
All night in dreams..."
Completed in Chelsea in 1913, the piece offers distantly evocativefragments of melody over a repeated accompaniment pattern.
The third of the set, The Scarlet Ceremonies, bears the date June,1913. It is prefaced by lines from Arthur Machen's The House of Souls:
"...Then there are the Ceremonies, which are all of them important,but some are more delightful than others - there are the White Ceremonies, andthe Green Ceremonies, and the Scarlet Ceremonies. The Scarlet Ceremonies arethe best..."
The occult ceremonies of the title are translated into musical terms,with insistently repeated figures and a final glissando leading toforceful closing bars.
Leaves from a Child's Sketchbook, published in 1918, offers music of greatsimplicity. On the Mere is an Allegretto in a straightforwardtriple metre, with the dotted notes of its melody above. In the Meadow, againin simple two-part writing, is a graceful Moderato and the set ends witha graphic and descriptive The Hunt's Up.
A poignant mood, lightened by a central passage in the major, generallypervades The Darkened Valley of 1921, with its superscription fromWilliam Blake:
"Walking along the darkened valley
With silent Melancholy."
Ireland's Sonatina was written between June, 1926, and October,1927, and dedicated to Edward Clark, the husband of the composer ElisabethLutyens. The first movement includes an attack on Arnold Bax for his allegedlycruel treatment of the pianist Gweneth Hutcheson. The notes C A D provide anemphatic secondary subject in the first movement. The evocative slow movementleads without a break to the final energetic rondo.
The Three P