Tuesday, 28 June 2016

The Pianoforte Music of John Ireland by Katharine E. Eggar (Part I)

Katharine Emily Eggar was born in London on 5 January 1874. She studied piano in Berlin, Brussels and London and composition at the Royal Academy of Music with Frederick Corder. In 1911, along with Marion Scott and Gertrude Eaton, she was a founder member of The Society of Women Musicians.
Eggar had a great interest in the works of Shakespeare and maintained the theory that the plays were actually written by Edward de Vere, Lord Oxford.   She wrote a considerable amount of musical criticism, much of it concentrating on British works.
Her compositions were mainly for chamber ensemble and piano solo, but also include a number of songs.  Katharine Eggar died in London on 15 August 1961.
The Pianoforte Music of John Ireland was published in The Music Teacher: The Official Organ of the Music Teacher Association in Volume XIV, June 1922.

MR. IRELAND [1] is one of the few British composers who have published a piano sonata [2], and his work, written later than those by Benjamin Dale, Arnold Bax and Cyril Scott [3], is likely to rank high as a contribution to the slowly but steadily growing pile of modern British music which is helping us to win back our lost reputation as a ‘musical nation.’
To discuss the sonata itself adequately would, however, require more than the whole space at my disposal for this article; but as, since its first performance last Spring by Lamond [4], it has been played by such capable interpreters as Howard-Jones, Winifred Christie, Lloyd Powell, Ralph Lawton and Edward Mitchell [5], I may hope that a fair proportion of my readers have had the opportunity of hearing it.

I remember saying in my article on Arnold Bax's piano music that it was the fashion to speak of him as ‘obscure’ and ‘diffuse.’ I find that it is the fashion in speaking of John Ireland to say that he is ‘crude.’ Many people kindly add to this—‘but sincere.’
It is difficult to know what people mean by tags like this—sometimes they don't know themselves—but personally I do not consider that ‘crude’ is a correct term to apply to this composer, for there is nothing crude, i.e., raw, about his workmanship. I should say that he prizes clarity of thought and conciseness of expression above everything, and he has won them by long wrestling with chaotic thought and emotion and intense difficulty of utterance. As he says himself: ‘One may sometimes be intentionally crude’; but I do not think you will ever surprise him in half-baked work. ‘Sincere’ is the truer term, and, allowing for the occasional ‘intentional crudities,’ I find his music in other aspects sincerely gentle, sincerely tender, sincerely delicate, sincerely restrained, But as it is obvious that many people will approach the pieces prejudiced by rumour, I will endeavour more definitely to disarm them by suggesting three reasons which I believe may underlie the prevailing notion.

Clearing away some misconceptions.
To begin with, Mr. Ireland is a composer of great vigour, and great vigour is apt to be expressed with more violence than grace. He also does not think it worthwhile to state the obvious, or, at any rate, not to the point of being platitudinous. Now, sometimes the obvious is very comforting, and any of us may be misjudged, as composers or in any other human relationship, though not knowing when what is obvious to ourselves is not so to our vis-â-vis. I can well imagine a new acquaintance, missing some of the expected conventional small-talk and padding in Mr. Ireland's conversation, murmuring the above-quoted tag and turning to a more urbane writer.
The second reason I have to suggest would only have weight with the people who make the rules of four-part harmony the criterion of pianoforte writing. To such people, Mr. Ireland's writing must appear to be bristling with false relations and may very well appear to them as ‘crude.’ ‘Why, the man seems to be ignorant of the first principles of correct writing,’ one can imagine them exclaiming in pious indignation.
Mr. Ireland himself was much amused at this idea of the ‘Thou shalt nots’ of harmony. ‘No, of course you mustn't use false relation when you're learning to write four-part harmony, but there's no reason why you shouldn't use it when you have learnt how to write. Every note has some relationship to every other note, and if nowadays we take notes which used only to be allowed as passing notes, and neither prepare for them beforehand nor get rid of them by resolution afterwards, we are only avoiding saying what has become obvious. The new relationships become familiar by degrees. I'm not a musical Bolshevist. In fact, I always feel that my harmony is years behind the times’ when I see what really modern people are doing. I don't write in two different planes of tonality at the same time, well, in this sort of way.’ He opened a score of Le Sacre du Printemps [6] which lay on the piano, and played a few bars. ‘O yes, you do,’ I retorted, ‘only you do it much more beautifully than Stravinsky. Whereas he makes us writhe under shrieks of dissonance, you soothe and charm us with the delicious evanescence of a ‘Moon-glade.’[7] But you must allow that the harmonies of the ‘dual melodic lines’ of this, to ears whose owners are conscientiously struggling to distinguish between ‘essential’ and ‘unessential’ discords, seem very daring and more than a little mysterious.’ He admitted the probability, adding: ‘Of course, you must learn historically. It's no good to hand a pupil Stravinsky's Rite at his first lesson and say: “Now go and write something like that.” People must begin at the beginning.’

Faults in the Player.
My third suggestion is the somewhat insulting one that players produce the crudities they object to by too loud playing and by wrong emphasis of particular ingredients. Certainly some of Mr. Ireland's directions are not easy to follow, but they are always given with meticulous care and perfect clearness, and if exact attention is paid to them, the result arrived at may be a very different sound-picture from that produced by preconceived methods of interpretation. For instance, his marking of stresses needs to be very carefully inspected, and his instructions for pedalling taken absolutely literally, in order to produce the effects he intends. It is the same with his rhythmical indications, his tempo-marks and his use of terms to indicate mood. There is nothing haphazard: they are not the capricious markings of an uncertain temperament, or one too impatient to analyse his own renderings.

The gradual absorption of a style.
There is no ‘dodge’ by which to play a composer acceptably except that of getting gradually to know his idiom; and ‘every composer has his own idiom of melody, his own idiom of harmony, his own idiom of rhythm,’ said Mr. Ireland. ‘He will have his own, idiom of configuration, too—that is, if he has any style.’
There is no doubt that Mr. Ireland has a style. And however original his thought and idiom may be, his piano-writing is as truly pianistic as anything Chopin ever gave us. It is genuine keyboard music, lying naturally for the hands. One of the resources of the instrument which he has explored to our great enrichment is the use of the bell-tone —the true percussion-produced harmonic richness—of the mechanism. The pieces contain frequent hints for ‘a chime-like sonority,’ and some of the passages reveal the most enchanting effects, most refreshing to the ear sated with heavy harmonies and laboured reiterations of key. The final bars of the already-quoted ‘Moon-glade’ (No. 2 of the Decorations) are a case in point. In fact, they might be suggested as an introduction to the study of the composer by way of counteractive to the ‘crudity’ bogey! For no one could let those vapour-like harmonies rise from the fundamental and float away into silence without realising that he has another and a very different side.

‘The Island Spell.’
The first piece in the same book, The Island Spell, [8] also depends greatly on the proper conception of tone, the free percussion action necessary to give the chime-like ring of the upper notes over the ‘clear, delicate sonority’ of the repeated figure in the middle pitch. This is one of the most frequently played of John Ireland's pieces, but, so says the composer, it is very rarely rendered as he likes it. Here is an instance where the subtleties of stress and pedalling are all-important, and although the music reaches a tremendous climax of tone on page 6, [9] it should make its effect through a particular kind of emotional and mental thrill rather than by physical noise. The passage leading up to this should surge gradually towards it, each sweep of demisemiquavers like a wave (‘ not like a finger exercise ‘), the rhythm which culminates in the martellato passage being most strictly rendered as written, and then it should as gradually recede and melt away into the tranquillity and distance of the final page.
The third of the Decorations, entitled ‘The Scarlet Ceremonies’, is very seldom played [10], Mr. Ireland finds, probably on account of its sheer fatiguingness. An accompaniment figure has to be kept going with great brilliance the whole time, and of course it is no use if the scarlet has become pale pink before the end! But still one would think that the delightful fantastic notion of the title would have allured many of our brilliant pianists, for whom finger difficulties do not seem to exist.

[1] John Nicholson Ireland (1879-1962) composer, pianist and teacher of music. He is best remembered for his piano music and songs.
[2] John Ireland’s Sonata in E minor-major for piano was composed during 1918-20. It was revised in 1951. The work is in three movements: 1. Allegro moderato, 2. Non troppo lento and 3. Con moto moderato.
[3] Benjamin Dale (1885-1943), Arnold Bax (1883-1953), Cyril Scott (1879-1970) were three composers who added significantly to the piano repertoire of the first half of the 20th century. Dale’s Sonata in D minor was composed during 1902-5. Bax wrote a number of Sonatas for piano, including five that remain unpublished or lost. At the time of writing the present article, Katharine Eggar would have known the First Piano Sonata (F sharp minor) composed in 1910, but revised between 1917 and 1921 and the Second Piano Sonata (G major) written in 1919 and revised the following year. Both were published in 1921. The Sonata No.3 (G sharp minor) appeared in 1926 followed by the Sonata No.4 (G major) in 1932.  By 1922, Cyril Scott had written two sonatas. The unnumbered Sonata, op.17 from 1901 was unpublished and was later re-worked as the ‘Handelian Rhapsody’ in 1909. The original Sonata has been recorded by Leslie De’ath on Dutton Epoch (CDLX7155). In 1908 Scott issued his Sonata No.1, op.66. This work was subsequently revised in 1910 and later in 1935. The year 1935 also saw the publication of his Sonata No.2 and Sonata No.3 was completed in 1955. 
[4] Frederic Lamond (1868-1948) was a Scottish concert pianist and composer. He studied piano with Franz Liszt and Hans von Bulow.  For many years he had his home in Berlin, finally settling in London at the outbreak of the Second World War. He composed much music including a symphony, a concert overture, piano pieces and chamber music. Lamond gave the first performance of the Ireland Sonata in E minor-major for solo piano at the Wigmore Hall on 12 June 1920.
[5] Evelyn Howard-Jones (1877-1951), Winifred Christie (1882-1965), Lloyd Powell (1888-1975), Ralph Lawton and Edward Mitchell were pianists active during the first half of the 20th century.
[6] Le Sacre du Printemps by Igor Stravinsky. It was composed for the Diaghilev’s 1913 Paris Season and the score was published that year.
[7] ‘Moon-Glade’ was the second piece in John Ireland’s Decorations for solo piano, composed at Chelsea in 1913.
[8] ‘The Island Spell’ was the first of the three Decorations. It was inspired by the seascapes of Jersey. The score is dated ‘Fauvic, Jersey: August 1912’.
[9] This is signed in the score as Mosso (movement) –con forza e martellato (with strength and hammered!) and consists of massive parallel triads with the octave in the right hand with added notes played in the left hand. They are played fff.
[10] The three Decorations are now usually recorded or played as a set. 

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