Saturday, 12 September 2009

John Ireland: Elegiac Meditation (arranged by Geoffrey Bush)

Elegiac Meditation is a transcription by Geoffrey Bush of a piece that was written for the organ in 1958 and was originally titled Meditation on John Keble’s Rogationtide Hymn.
The work was in fact a commission from a New York publisher. Fiona Richards quotes the composer as writing “[I] would have refused the commission but was implored for something by the H.W Gray Co. of N. York and they are paying a reasonable sum for the job.” Muriel V. Searle notes that Ireland informed his amanuensis Charles Markes that he had ‘concocted a piece for the organ.” She relates how the piece was written with great difficulty due to the composer’s failing eyesight. The work brought Ireland’s career full circle. Searle suggest that the Meditation ended as his first major work had begun, with “the soft, mystic, beautiful chords introducing The Forgotten Rite.”
Of course this begs the question as to whether it was a deliberate self quotation whether it was subconscious. But the fact is that it these chords were the very last notes the composer ever wrote. The manuscript is dated J.I. 29 May 1958.

The Hymn
Lord, in Thy Name Thy servants plead,
And Thou hast sworn to hear;
Thine is the harvest, Thine the seed,
The fresh and fading year.
Our hope, when autumn winds blew wild,
We trusted, Lord, with Thee:
And still, now spring has on us smiled,
We wait on Thy decree.
The former and the latter rain,
The summer sun and air,
The green ear and the golden grain,
All Thine, are ours by prayer.
Thine too by right and ours by grace,
The wondrous growth unseen,
The hopes that soothe, the fears that brace,
The love that shines serene.
So grant the precious things brought forth
By sun and moon below,
That Thee in Thy new heav’n and earth
We never may forgo.
Rogationtide is a festival that has a tendency to drift back to its pagan roots where the crops and the flock were blessed. It also involved the beating of the bounds with particular attention being paid to sacred wells and stones.
The piece was the very last to be composed by Ireland. Robert Gower has noted that most of the composer’s organ works were, in fact, written between 1902-1911, the last work can be seen as a kind of musical autobiography. Ireland seems to be looking back over his life and ‘meditating’ on some of his great works – including the slow movement of the Piano Concerto and The Forgotten Rite.
The Meditation is in itself relatively straight forward. It is written in ternary form with a six bar coda that presents a quotation from The Forgotten Rite. Gower concludes his thoughs by suggesting that this is appropriate – because Ireland’s heart was never far from the organ loft.

Geoffrey Bush transcribed this work for strings in 1982. He headed the score with a quotation from J.B Priestley’s play The Linden Tree:-
"Listen –he’s remembering the earlier themes now…and saying goodbye to them. Wandering through the darkening house of life – touching all the things he loved – crying Farewell – for ever – for ever”

In many ways I am reminded of Gerald Finzi by this music. However, this is not so much in style as in substance. There is a definite valedictory feel to this Elegiac Mediation –a mood that suffuses much of Finzi’s music. Robert Gower sums the work up well. He writes that “Behind the quiet unassuming exterior lies great inner strength; the deeply felt, personal character of writing is obvious. In the Mediation we see a musical affirmation of faith from a devout man nearing the end of his life.” (Musical Times August 1979 p683)
It is a mood and a character the Geoffrey Bush has maintained and even amplified in this beautiful transcription.

The Elegiac Mediation is available on Chandos 8390

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