Wednesday, 28 January 2015

John Ireland: Works from 1915

A century ago, John Ireland was not particularly busy composing music.  Stewart R. Craggs has listed only four works noted in the revised edition of his John Ireland: Catalogue, Discography and Bibliography (2007):-
  • Evening Service in F major, for mixed chorus and organ
  • Rhapsody for solo piano
  • ‘An Island Hymn’, anthem for unaccompanied men’s voices (TTBB). This last work was later revised as ‘Island Praise’ in 1955.
  • Preludes for piano, No. 2 Obsession and No.4 Fire of Spring were completed in this year. Nos. 1 and 3 were completed in 1914 and 1913 respectively. The work was not performed until 7 June 1918. I will not consider these this post. 
During 1915 Ireland also began work on his Sonata No.2 in A minor for violin and piano which was duly completed in 1917.
Clearly the major work here is the Rhapsody for solo piano which is one of Ireland’s most important works. This work demands a lot of comment and analysis. I shall spare the reader by making three observations. Firstly, this work balances two important thematic statements - the first is ‘rugged and assertive’ and the second is ‘more pastoral and reflective in tone.’ The progress of the music between themes is assisted by complex and largely decorative passages which are in themselves a vital part of this work and are totally satisfying. Secondly, this contrasting structure and the general mood of the music surely reflect the dark days of the First World War. And thirdly, it has long been known that in spite of the title, this work has connections – both emotionally and musically with The Forgotten Rite, Sarnia and even Chelsea Reach. The Rhapsody has been declared as being a ‘symphonic poem for piano’.
There is no indication when this work was first performed, but may have been by William Murdoch at a British Music Society Concert. It was published by Stainer & Bell in 1917. 

‘An Island Hymn’ based on Isaiah 42: 10, 12 was composed in June 1915 as an anthem for male chorus. It was published by Stainer & Bell in a book of twelve short anthems which were designed ‘for use in church, on deck, in camp or trench as occasion may require/ composed for and dedicated to all brave Defenders of the Realm of George V, whether on sea, land or in the air, and especially the men’s Choir of HMS Achilles, somewhere in the North Sea’. HMS Achilles survived the Great War and was duly scrapped in 1921.

The Evening Service (Magnificat & Nunc Dimitis) in F seems to have been the final instalment of a long process. Jeremy Dibble, in his liner notes for the Naxos CD, writes that Ireland wrote his Te Deum in F in 1907. This owed much to Charles Villiers Stanford’s well known Te Deum in B flat op.10. In [c.]1912 Ireland added a Benedictus in the same key. The only work that the composer seemed to complete in 1914 was a Jubilate also in F major. They were published separately.
The Musical Times reviewer (March 1915) wrote that ‘…although Mr. Ireland's music makes no great demand upon organist or singers, it is full of interest, being melodious and well laid out for voices. The harmony generally is bold and diatonic, and the work as a result is strong, and free from the secular and 'part-song' flavour that so often disfigures settings of the Canticles.’
In 2012 the Evening Service and the Island Praise (1955 revision) appeared on a Naxos CD (8.573014). There are a number of versions of John Ireland’s Rhapsody available, including Alan Rowlands (Lyrita), Eric Parkin (Chandos & Lyrita), Mark Bebbington (Somm), and John Lenenan (Naxos).

In 1915 Ireland had purchased ‘The Studio’ at 14A Gunter Grove in Chelsea which was to be his home until he moved to Rock Mill in Sussex in 1943. Also the first published account of his music appeared in Monthly Musical Record (1 July1915). This appears on my blog

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