Monday, 3 June 2013

John Ireland & Cyril Scott: Overtures to Maurice Maeterlinck’s Plays


One of the most exciting CD releases of 2013 (so far, and for me) is the Dutton Epoch [CDLX7302] recording of Cyril Scott’s early, romantic Piano Concerto in D, Op.10 (1900) the Cello Concerto, Op.19 (1902) and the Overture: Pélleas and Mélisande, Op.3 (1900). However it is something that Lewis Foreman states in the liner notes that caught my eye. After discussing Scott’s Pélleas, he suggests that it is ‘interesting to compare Scott...with John Ireland... [who was also] fascinated by the symbolist plays of Maurice Maeterlinck.’ Ireland wrote an overture for Pélleas. Both Scott and Ireland produced overtures or an orchestral poem inspired by the same author’s Princess Maleine.
Alas, both the Ireland works have disappeared and are known only from references in the Monthly Musical Record July 1, 1915 and Edwin Evans’ masterly overview of Ireland’s early music in the Musical Times, August 1919. There is no way of knowing what this music sounded like. No performances have been traced: no reviews written.  They were most likely destroyed by the composer.  
Maurice Maeterlinck’s play Princess Maleine was issued in an English language edition in 1892 and Pélleas and Mélisande a few years later. His work would have been a major influence on composers, writers and artists at this time. However, the best known interpretation  of the play is the opera Pelleas and Mélisande by Claude Debussy.
In the John Ireland Companion (Boydell Press, 2011) Lewis Foreman offers one possible glimmer of hope in the recovery of Ireland’s Pélleas or Princess Maleine. In the composer’s catalogue there is a work entitled ‘Orchestral Poem in A minor’ which is dated London 26 February 1904.’ Foreman notes that no performance has been documented from Ireland’s lifetime and that the work appears to have gone unnoticed.  He concludes the discussion by stating that ‘whether it is one of the two overtures Midsummer (another missing work from Ireland’s early years) or Pélleas et Mélisande, or more likely Princess Maleine...it is impossible to say.  However, he suggests that the listener could ‘imagine...those opening sections [of the Poem] evoking the princess in her tower, and the middle section her escape and wandering through an oppressive and frightening forest.’
This 'Orchestral Poem' is unlike anything that Ireland was to subsequently produced, however, there is a power and intensity to this post-romantic work that demands our attention. It is quite possible the composer did not wish to destroy his Maleine and chose to revise it. Let us hope that here in the pages of the A minor Poem we may have some trace of this lost work.
Scott’s overture, Princess Maleine was withdrawn after a Proms performance in 1907.  It was revised and later reappeared as the Festival Overture in 1934. His Pélleas Overture has been reconstructed from manuscript by Martin Yates. 

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