Anthony Collins (1892-1964) is best known as a conductor. Many listeners will be familiar with his imaginative interpretations of Delius’ tone poems and the major cycle of Sibelius’ Symphonies issued in the early 1950s. Collins was also a composer of film music, light pieces and a Symphony for strings.
One of my favourite Collins’ pieces is the well-written Eire Suite which balances excitement, patriotism and romanticism in a satisfying manner.
The Suite is based on Irish songs by Percy French. French was born in Tulsk, County Roscommon in 1840. He became famous writing the lyrics and music of many humorous and wistful songs, often reflecting the Irish diaspora. French died in Formby, Lancashire in 1920.
Philip Scowcroft does wonder just how many of the song’s melodies were written by French. He suggests that the heart-felt The Mountains of Mourne was written by William Houston Collinson (1865-1920)
The Suite’s first movement is a stirring ‘Battle March’ which is a transcription of French’s ‘Mat Hannigan’s Aunt’. The slow, movement, a reverie, is based on the ‘The Mountains of Mourne’. Collins has created a miniature tone-poem which is beautifully scored and is hauntingly beautiful. The finale is a reel which is a brilliant reworking of the well-known tune ‘Phil the Fluter’s Ball’. Lewis Foreman considers it to be ‘a suitably knockabout treatment as a headlong reel'. Although the Suite is probably classed as being ‘light music’ there is a quality to this work that seems to transcend labels. The middle movement is a little masterpiece.
Anthony Collins’ Eire Suite was published in 1940 by Keith Prowse.
ASV released an album of British Film Composers in Concert in 2003 with Gavin Sutherland conducting the Royal Ballet Sinfonia. It included music by Clifton Parker, Leighton Lucas, Bruce Montgomery and Eric Rogers.
The Penguin Guide to CDs and DVDs Yearbook 2004 states that the Eire Suite is ‘full of Irish whimsy, and especially infectious in the ‘Fluter’s Hooley’ (Reel).’ Ian Lace on MusicWeb International (June 2003) writes that Sutherland and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia give ‘a lusty reading of the stirring ‘Battle March’…the lovely Reverie that follows recalls, in sentimental nostalgic mood, the misty Mountains of Mourne – in a gorgeous arrangement of the famous Irish melody. And it is another arrangement of another well-known Irish tune, the jolly ‘Phil the Fluter’s Ball’, that rounds off the suite’.
In 2006 Dutton Epoch released a CD of Anthony Collins’ Eire Suite. Included on the disc were the Symphony for String, no1, the Festival Royal Overture, Vanity Fair, Louis XV Silhouettes and a number of other pieces.
Paul Snook (Fanfare January 2004) writes that ‘…unfortunately, the Eire Suite presented here seems rather routine and heavy-handed in its treatment of Gaelic clichés’. I am not convinced that Collins does overdo the pastiche: for me he seems to have balanced the exuberance with the Celtic reflection. It is a work that deserves to be better known.