Sunday, 16 November 2008

John Ireland: In summer Woods – an unknown part-song.

How jubilant the summer sky,
When turtle doves and cuckoos cry,
And when in wild and leafy wood
The song of nightingale is heard.

We wander in the shady grove,
And where red berries are we rove;
The ousel pipes his music low
And finches drum upon the bough.

Beside the blackcap vine we stay
On tender moss where shadows play
And fitting by, the cuckoo's brood
Go babbling through the leaf
Leafy wood.

I was rummaging in the boxes of music outside a well-known second-hand music bookshop in London the other night. I discovered a part song by John Ireland – In Summer Woods. Now I pride myself on being up to speed with this composer, but somehow this work had escaped my attention.
It seems strange that none of John Ireland’s part-songs have caught the performers’ imaginations. Stewart Craggs catalogue notes in excess of forty examples, yet I can find no recordings dedicated to this genre -although I am sure the odd part song will have been recorded.

The facts about this work are quite simple –it was composed in 1910-11, however the manuscript is missing. It is contemporary with the well-known Greater Love hath No Man which was the only major work from this year. However, there were a couple of songs which have become well known – Hope the Hornblower, When Lights go Rolling round the Sky. In additions a couple of pieces for the organ were composed at this time including the Alla Marcia, the Capriccio and the Sursum Corda.
In Summer Woods was published in 1911 by J. Curwen & Son Ltd as part of their 'Choruses for Equal Voices Series' (No.71334). It was also published as How Jubilant the Summer Sky. Interestingly it was arranged by T. Widicombe for chorus and orchestra in 157. No details of the score or performance are available.The text is a translation by James Vila Blake from a German original.

Musically the work is straight forward, although the vocal line is not quite as easy as a first glance might suggest. The piece is signed to be sung 'Allegro comodo' –which allows the singer to progress at a comfortable rate. The piano accompaniment is straight forward, with the key motif parodying the opening bar of the vocal line. The melody is strophic, with a little extension at the end of the final verse. The last line of each verse is repeated.

In Summer Woods is probably worth reviving as one of a series of part-songs at a recital or on a CD. However, there does appear to be a bit of a 'downer' on two-part music these days. So I guess that this piece will remain obscure.

There is little mention of this work in the literature – however in the March 1913 edition of the Musical Times a notice is given of a children’s singing competition at the Peoples Palace Mile End Road on 20th and 22nd February 1913. The winners of this event were the St John’s Road School, Hoxton with the 1st prize and St Giles School Spitalfields coming 2nd. The two test pieces were the folk-song 'Oh No John' and Ireland's 'In Summer Woods'. The judge is reported to have said that ‘Rarely have such pure tone, perfect intonation clear enunciation and fine rhythmic treatment been heard in a junior competition.’

It is not clear if the two schools are still functioning – or is they have been closed or amalgamated – however one does wonder if their successors compete in similar musical competitions. Finall,y I notice that my piece of music used to belong to Graeme High School – and obviously ended up in the box outside the music shop as a result of a clear out. Now this school is going strong in Falkirk, Scotland. What songs the music department sing today? And is John Ireland seen as being outdated?

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