Tuesday, 27 September 2016

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

The continuation of Donald Brook's pen portrait of John Ireland published in his book Composers Gallery. 
Another of Ireland's most popular works is the Piano Concerto which he wrote in 1930. [1] In the final movement there is a suggestion of modern jazz; a pleasant, lively passage. This work must have been given at least twenty performances in England, and it is worth recording that it was played in Moscow in 1934 under the conductorship of Edward Clark, and shortly afterwards in Budapest under Dohnányi and in Vienna under Konradt.
Foreign countries have also shown considerable interest in his ‘London Overture’ (1936), a work which we might profitably compare with the compositions of Elgar and Vaughan Williams also inspired by our great city. Ireland's picture is a colourful affair, but lacks the spirit and strength of character shown by Elgar, and the deep pensiveness of Vaughan Williams' wonderful ‘London Symphony’. However, ‘A London Overture’ has taken its place in British music, and will undoubtedly become even more popular now that Dr Malcolm Sargent has made such an excellent record of it with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. [2]
In more recent years Ireland has written a Concertino Pastorale, [3] which does not, however, strike me as being particularly pastoral; and among other things, a fine Elgarian choral setting of J. A. Symonds's poem ‘These Things shall be’, which was launched in magnificent style at a BBC Symphony Concert in December 1937. [4] It was a musician's attempt to assist a poet's effort at stimulating the conscience of a nation lulled into a sense of false security by the most incompetent bunch of politicians ever inflicted upon a free but apathetic people.
Another quite recent work, his Epic March (commissioned by the BBC), suggests that Ireland wanted to snatch a little nation-wide popularity for himself, for it is a work full of appeal for the man in the street. [5] The fact that he succeeded in this without being vulgar in the slightest degree all goes to show that he is a very able composer. The Sunday Times described it as "a sincere and deeply felt piece of music" of which the whole atmosphere is that of idealism "as far removed from jingoism as a Persian carpet is from a piece of cheap linoleum." [6] It has a suggestion of Parry as well as Elgar, and the middle section is based on a really beautiful melody that sticks in the memory as persistently as anything I know.
During the early part of the Second World War, John Ireland was staying in the Channel Islands and working on an arrangement of his ‘Downland Suite’ for Orchestra. [7] When a section of the German army also decided to take up residence there he was obliged to leave in a hurry, and alas the greater part of the score was left behind. His ‘Island Sequence’- ‘Sarnia’ was written on Guernsey by the way, and was introduced to the public by Clifford Curzon in January 1942. It is a cycle of three short tone poems; delightful impressions of ‘Le Catioroc,’ ‘In a May morning,’ and ‘[Song of the] Spring tides.’ [8]
Turning to his Fantasy-sonata for clarinet and piano, which was first performed at the Wigmore Hall by Frederick Thurston (for whom it was written) and Kendall Taylor on January 29th 1944, we find one of the best works for the clarinet since the days of Brahms. The Sunday Times [9] declared "One of the most outstanding characteristics of this new fantasy-sonata is its continuous stream of melody; and another is its richness of rhythmic invention." The Times described its material as "concentrated into one self-contained movement, in which the lyrical qualities of both instruments are emphasized in characteristic terms of genial, fluid harmony and iridescent figuration." [10] A notable broadcast followed this premiere, in which the composer himself played the piano part. [11]
A little while ago Ralph Hawkes [12] asked Ireland (and several other composers) to write something for a wind-band in celebration of the approaching centenary of the first military band publication issued by the firm of Hawkes. The composer has now produced a bright little work called ‘A Maritime Overture’, [13] dedicated to its inciter. Ireland says that while he was writing it he had in mind Hawkes's fondness for yachting, and his affection for the sea, ‘which I share, though I cannot yet aspire to a yacht.’
John Ireland is an honorary Doctor of Music of Durham University, and is keenly interested in the work of all his contemporaries, particularly Igor Stravinsky and the late Maurice Ravel. Of the old masters his preferences are for the works of Bach and Mozart. It need scarcely be added that poetry still remains one of his greatest sources of inspiration.
Donald Brook, Composer’s Gallery (London, Rockcliff, 1944)
[1] The Concerto in E flat for piano and orchestra was composed between 1929 and 1930. It was dedicated to the pianist Helen Perkin. The premiere was at the Queen’s Hall, London on 2 October 1930 with the dedicatee and the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Henry Wood.
[2] ‘A London Overture’ was a reworking of the earlier ‘Comedy Overture’ for brass band written in 1936. The new work was first heard at the Queen’s Hall, London on 23 September 1936. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Sir Henry Wood.  Sir Malcolm Sargent’s recording with the Liverpool Philharmonic was made in Liverpool during April 1944. It was issued on Columbia DX 1155-56 (78rpm) and has subsequently remastered for CD. (Dutton CDAX 8012).  
[3] The Concertino Pastorale was composed for the 1939 Canterbury Festival. It was first performed at Canterbury Cathedral on 14 June 1939 by the Boyd Neel String Orchestra, conducted by the work’s dedicatee, Boyd Neel.  I disagree with Donald Brook: I feel that the pastoral element is present and correct in this work, even if it is more melancholic than bucolic.
[4] ‘These things shall be’, as Brook points out, is a major choral work owing much to Edward Elgar and Charles Hubert Hastings Parry.  It was commissioned by the BBC to celebrate the Coronation of King George VI in 1937. The first performance was at a studio recording made on 13 May 1937 by the BBC Chorus, the BBC Orchestra and the baritone Denis Noble. It was conducted by Adrian Boult.  The work remains Ireland’s most substantial choral piece.  This was an idealistic work based on a poem by John Addington Symonds (1840-93) that seems to be out of place in a Europe that was witnessing the rise of Fascism. Consider the lines: New arts shall bloom of loftier mould/And mightier music thrill the skies/And every life a song shall be/ When all the earth is paradise.’ The sentiment is something that all can aspire to, even if the reality is much harder to come by. The work was orchestrated by John Ireland’s pupil, Alan Bush (1900-95).
[5] The Epic March was commissioned by the BBC and was composed during 1941/2. It was premiered at the Royal Albert Hall on 27 June 1942 by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Henry Wood.
[6] The Sunday Times, 28 June 1942. The review was written by Ralph Hill.
[7] ‘A Downland Suite’ was originally composed as the test piece for the 1932 National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain. The piece was first heard at London’s Crystal Palace on 1 October of that year. The winning band was the Foden Motor Work’s Band.  In 1941 Ireland ‘freely adapted’ two of the movements, ‘Minuet’ and ‘Elegy’ for string orchestra. In 1978, Geoffrey Bush made a version of the entire suite. This has been recorded on Chandos (CHAN 9376). The music has not just been transcribed: Bush has followed the composer’s example in reconceiving the music as a composition for string orchestra rather than making a literal re-arrangement of the brass band version’. Chandos Liner Notes.
In 1985, the suite was transcribed for wind band by Ray Steadman-Allen.
[8] Sarnia: An Island Sequence was first heard as Brook states, at the Wigmore Hall, 29 November 1941. The pianist was Clifford Curzon. It is not only one of the composer’s most vital works, but was also his last major composition for the piano.  The sleeve notes to the Mark Bebbington’s recording of this work (SOMM SOMMCD 088) notes that 'the 60-year-old composer's evocation of, and tribute to, an island where he had achieved possibly the greatest happiness and contentedness in a life not overflowing with personal fulfilment and 'job satisfaction.' The three movements are ‘Le Catioroc’, ‘In a May Morning’ and ‘Song of the Springtides.’  
[9] The Sunday Times 30 January 1944. The review was written by Ralph Hill.
[10] The Times 01 February 1944. Unsigned review.
[11] Probably first broadcast on Thursday 7 November, 1946 on the BBC Home Service. It was heard again on Thursday 8 January 1948, possibly from the same recording. The second broadcast has been issued on the Symposium record label (1259)
[12] Ralph Hawkes (1898-1950) at this time was the senior director of the music publisher Boosey and Hawkes Limited. 
[13] Brook’s discussion of this work is a little misleading. The Maritime Overture was originally the Symphonic Prelude: Tritons for orchestra which was composed in 1899 and received its premiere in London on 21 March 1901.  It is described by the composer as an ‘RCM Studentship work.’ It has been recorded twice: London Philharmonic Orchestra/Adrian Boult on Lyrita SRCD 240 (2007); reissue of SRCS 45 (1971) and London Philharmonic Orchestra/Richard Hickox on Chandos CHAN 8994 (1991). According to Stewart R. Cragg’s A Catalogue, Discography and Bibliography 2nd edition (Ashgate, 2007) Tritons was arranged for military band by Norman Richardson. This version was published in 1946.  It was further arranged for symphonic wind band by Richardson and published in 1988.


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