Saturday, 24 September 2016

John Ireland: Donald Brook’s Pen-Portrait from 'Composer's Gallery' Part I

Donald Brook wrote a series of books presenting attractive short studies or pen-portraits of a wide variety of musicians and authors. Clearly he had met these people and had a chance to speak to them about their achievements and interests. Sir Granville Bantock endorsed Composer’ Gallery by insisting that it ‘will be welcomed by music lovers and the larger public throughout the civilised world.’
On a personal note, this was one of the earliest second hand books about music that I bought in the days before the internet, it served as my introduction to a wide range of composers and their music.  I include a number of footnotes to Brook’s pen-portrait of John Ireland.

I have a feeling that the creative powers of John Ireland have always been stimulated by the deep love of poetry engendered within him during his childhood by the literary atmosphere of his home. His parents, Alexander and Dorothy [1] Ireland were both authors, and enjoyed the friendship of many prominent writers, so their son, born at Inglewood, Bowden, Cheshire, [2] on August 13th 1879, grew up in a cultured environment in which self-expression through any of the arts was regarded with approval. Alexander Ireland, by the way, was the editor of the Manchester Examiner and Times, [3] and the author of The Book-lover's Enchiridion. [4]
John Ireland was educated at Leeds Grammar School, but was only fourteen when he came to London to study at the Royal College of Music under C. V. Stanford for composition and Frederick Cliffe [5] for the piano. He wrote a number of pieces for solo instruments in his youth, and a fair amount of chamber music, but in later years he destroyed or withdrew from circulation almost everything he had written up to 1908, so that as far as we are concerned his career as a composer did not start until he was nearly thirty years of age. [6]
In 1908 his Phantasy Trio in A-minor won him the second prize in the Cobbett chamber music competition, [7] and in the following year he took the first prize in the same competition with his Sonata in D-minor for violin and pianoforte. [8]
Five years later he aroused the attention of many of the critics with a piano solo called ‘Decorations’ and his first orchestral work ‘The Forgotten Rite’, [9] which is said to have been inspired by a holiday in Jersey. The latter won the approval of many leading conductors, and was performed on several occasions during the ensuing years.
He was still dissatisfied with much of the music he was writing, however. In 1914, for instance, he wrote a Trio in E minor (in three movements) which he withdrew after its first performance with the intention of revising it, but never did. [10]
His first outstanding success came in March 1917, when Albert Sammons and William Murdoch gave the initial performance of his striking Sonata for violin and piano in A minor [11]. This opus seemed to express all the deep emotions that the people of this country were feeling during those dark days of war with more eloquence than the spoken words of many of the war poets. It won the hearts of the audience immediately; the critics were unanimous in their praise, and within a few months most of the eminent violinists in Britain were playing it to a thoroughly sympathetic public. That anything coming under the heading of ‘chamber music’ could become so popular was little short of a sensation, and publishers who normally looked upon the issue of chamber music as a necessary but highly unprofitable speculation actually competed for the right of publishing this sonata! The first edition was sold in advance before it left the printers' hands.
Then came such works as the Piano Sonata (1920), the symphonic rhapsody ‘Mai-dun’ (1921), the Sonata for Violoncello (1924); such songs as Ireland's setting of Masefield's ‘Sea Fever’ and the three settings of Hardy's poems ‘Summer Schemes’’, Her Song’ and ‘Weathers’; and various piano pieces, of which I might mention ‘Amberley Wild Brooks’ (1921), ‘April’ (1925), ‘Month's Mind’ (1935) and ‘Green Ways’ (1938). [12] The title of ‘Month's Mind’ is explained by a quotation from Brand's Observations on Popular Antiquities:
". . . days which our ancestors called their 'month's mind' . . . (are) the days whereon their souls (after death) were had in special remembrance —hence the expression of 'having a month's mind' to imply a longing desire." [13]
The longing in this particular piece is suggested by restless over-lapping phrases, but these tend to make it rather monotonous, in my opinion.
Donald Brook, Composer’s Gallery (London, Rockcliff, 1944)

[1] John Ireland’s mother was actually Anne Elizabeth (Annie) Ireland, nee Nicholson (1842-1893). She was a writer and a biographer. Her magnum opus was a biography of the Jane Welsh Carlyle which was published in 1891. The only Dorothy in John Ireland’s life would appear to be Dorothy Phillips (1909) who was briefly the composer’s wife (1926-8). She was a young pianist studying at the Royal Academy of Music. The marriage was later dissolved.
[2] John Ireland was born at Inglewood, Bowden, Cheshire. This large house is now divided into a number of flats. There is a plaque indicating that the composer was born here.
[3] The composer’s father, Alexander Ireland was born in Edinburgh on 9 May 1810. He was an author, a journalist, businessman and a booklover. He wrote a major biography of the American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson as well as producing bibliographies of William Hazlitt and Leigh Hunt (1868). In 1882 Ireland published the once-famous The Book-Lover's Enchiridion under the pseudonym ‘Philobiblios’ (Booklover). Ireland was business manager of the Manchester Examiner newspaper and subsequently the Manchester Examiner and Times. Alexander Ireland died on 7 December 1894.
[4] The Book-lover's Enchiridion: A Treasury of Thoughts on the Solace and Companionship of Books was a once-popular collection of quotations from a multitude of authors including Cicero, Petrarch, William Hazlitt, Anthony Trollope and John Ruskin. It was first published in 1882 and reissued in a number of editions.  The book is headed by a quotation from Christopher Marlowe: ‘Infinite riches in a little room.’ (The Jew of Malta, c.1589).  The word ‘Enchiridion’ means ‘a book containing essential information on a subject’.
[5] Bradford-born Frederick Cliffe (1857-1931) was an organist, pianist and composer.  He studied with Sir Arthur Sullivan, Sir John Stainer and Ebenezer Prout, before, in 1884, taking up a post at the Royal College of Music as professor of piano and at the Royal Academy of Music from 1901. As a composer he is best remembered, where recalled at all, for a fine symphony (he composed two), a tone poem ‘Cloud and Sunshine’ and an accomplished Violin Concerto.
[6] Donald Brook is correct in suggesting that John Ireland’s first major triumph was the Violin Sonata in D minor and that a number of early works were subsequently suppressed or destroyed. However, the enthusiast of the composer will find much of interest in the catalogue for the years between 1895 and 1908. This includes a number of piano pieces, two delightful youthful String Quartets, the corpus of organ music, the Phantasie Trio in A minor and a number of songs and part-songs. 
[7] As noted by Brook, John Ireland’s Phantasy Trio in A-minor won the third prize in the 1907, not as stated, 1908, Cobbett Competition for Phantasy Piano Trio. The first prize was awarded to Frank Bridge’s masterly Phantasy in C minor, the second prize was given to James Friskin’ Phantasy in E minor. The fourth prize went to Alice Verne-Bredt for her Phantasy: Trio in one movement.
[8] The 1909 competition prizes were awarded to the composers Eric Gritton, Geoffrey O’Connor Morris, both works unknown, and Susan Spain-Dunk’s Sonata in B minor for violin and piano (unpublished).
[9] John Ireland’s first orchestral work was ‘Midsummer’ for orchestra which is regarded as a student work. It was composed in 1899 and has subsequently disappeared.  The first surviving orchestral works are Tritons: Symphonic Prelude for orchestra (1899) and the Orchestral Poem in A minor dating from 1904. There is also a tantalising reference to the lost tone poem ‘The Princess Maleine’ composed in 1905.  It is possible that the above mentioned Orchestral Poem may in fact be this ‘lost’ work. The Forgotten Rite is the composer’s first orchestral work to have a permanent hold in the repertoire.
[10] What Donald Brook is referring to is the Trio in D originally conceived for clarinet, cello and piano which was written between April 1912 and October 1913. It was subsequently revised as a Trio for violin, cello and piano which was withdrawn after a few performances. It was finally revisited in 1937 when the composer used some of the material for his Trio [No.3] in E major-minor for the same forces. This was published by Hawkes and Co. in 1938.
[11] The Sonata No.2 in A minor for violin and piano was first performed by Albert Sammons (violin) and William Murdoch (piano) at the Aeolian Hall, London on 6 March 1917. The work was published by Winthrop Rogers in the same year.
[12] The dates of these works typically reflect the date of publication or first performance.
[13] Brand's Observations on Popular Antiquities was originally published in 1813, but has been subject to many revisions and editions, the most recent being issued by Cambridge University Press in 2011.  The actual quotation from Brand is:
To have a Month's Mind, implying a longing Desire, is a figurative Expression, of which the Subsequent is the Origin: Minnyng Days, says Blount, (from the Saxon Gemynde, i.e. the Mind, q. Mynding Days) Bede Hist. lib. 4. ca. 30. Commemorationis Dies; Days which our Ancestors called their Monthe's Mind, their Year's Mind, and the like, being the Days whereon their Souls (after their Deaths) were had in special Remembrance, and some Office or Obsequies said for them; as Obits, Dirges, &c. This Word is still retained in Lancashire; but elsewhere more commonly called Anniversary Days.

To be continued…

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