Friday, 28 May 2010

John Ireland: A Review of the Piano Music by Marion M Scott

Marion M Scott regularly wrote reviews of music by John Ireland. However on 3 January 1920 a major article was published in the Christian Science Monitor which was essentially an overview of the composer’s achievement up to that time. It is too long to post in its entirety so I have selected the section that discusses the piano music. Scott’s thoughts about the songs, the composer’s early life and the Fantasy Trio in A minor will follow in due course.

John Ireland’s compositions for piano solo are extraordinarily diverse in character, though all are bound together by the common denominators of sincerity or intent and fine workmanship. In the three pieces grouped together under the title ‘Decorations’ (Augner), even literary; while the London sketches called ‘Chelsea Reach’ and ‘Ragamuffin’, which are full of sympathy and humour, give one the impression of having been painted at first-hand from realities seen on the historic highways that run near the composer’s home – the River Thames and the main road to south-western England. Then there is the big, uncompromising Rhapsody (Winthrop Rogers) which ultra-moderns consider one of Ireland’s best works –too large to be described here, but containing some terrific ‘false relations’ which would have delighted Purcell and shocked Victorian professors into a chorus of shrieks. The four Preludes (The Undertone, Obsession, The Holy Boy and Fire of Spring) published by Winthrop Rogers, are singularly vivid tone pictures –‘The Undertone’ in particular being so cleverly treated that one does not know whether to admire most its poetic effect or its intellectual basis. At the other pole from the Rhapsody lie the three pieces called ‘Leaves from a Child’s Sketch Book’ tiny studies in two-part writing, easy enough for a child to play, but charming and delicately balanced, nevertheless. Believe it who will, it is almost harder to write such little things perfectly than to do a multitudinous sounding work like the Rhapsody.
Literary critics have often said that the note of Elizabethan poetry has reappeared in the poems of contemporary Englishmen, and one has wondered whether the same affinity would manifest itself between composers of two epochs. So far it has not been very perceptible, but to those who now the music for virginals by William Byrd and John Bull, it is cleat the ideals of these men blossom again in ‘Leaves from a Child's Sketch Book.’

Listen to some piano music by John Ireland on Youtube including Equinox, The Towing Path and Summer Evening.

Marion M. Scott January 3 1920 Christian Science Monitor (minor edits)
With thanks to Pamela Blevins

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