Stewart R. Craggs in his indispensable John Ireland: A Catalogue, Discography and Bibliography (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2007, p.34) states that he was unable to trace the premiere performance of John Ireland’s Decorations for piano. He notes an early performance at the Wigmore Hall, London on 4 June 1919, given by Joyce Ansell, and at a further recital at the same venue on 12 June 1919 by Miss Chilton-Griffin.
Decorations was published in the summer of 1915, and its issue was noted in several journals at the time. There are three movements: The Island Spell, Moon-glade and The Scarlet Ceremonies. In 1919 all three pieces were published individually. The first number is often played alone.
The Island Spell was completed during the summer of 1911, when Ireland was on holiday at Fauvic in Jersey, however, the composer was unsatisfied with the ending. The revised solution suddenly came to him the following year, whilst back on holiday in the Channel Islands.
I recently came across an unsigned review (Western Daily Express, 4 April 1916, p.5) for a Clifton Chamber Society concert held on Monday 3 April 1916 at the Victoria Rooms, Clifton, Bristol. The entire evening was dedicated to British music and was presented by the Clifton Quintet. For the record, the performers were Herbert Parsons (piano), Maurice Alexander (first violin), Edgar Hawke (second violin), Alfred Best (viola) and Percy Lewis (cello). The concert opened with the remarkable Biscay Quartet (1913) by John Blackwood McEwen. The author notes that it was still in manuscript. This was followed by York Bowen’s Suite in D minor, op.28 for violin and piano (1909). Three piano solos followed: Two Preludes in A major and E major respectively (1906) by Paul Corder, The Island Spell by John Ireland, and R.O. Beachcroft’s Impromptu No.2 in C. The critic noted that “the ‘Spell,’ is a fascinating example, though somewhat peculiar.” The final piece at this recital was the Phantasy in F minor (1910) by James Friskin.
Of interest, R.O. Beachcroft was then music master of Clifton College. The present work, written in 1910, was dedicated to the evening’s pianist, Herbert Parsons.
So, was this the premiere performance of The Island Spell? There is no way of knowing, but it does push back Craggs’s date by nearly three years.
Looking at this concert some 106 years later gives a good impression of British music that was making headway at the time. Sadly, only Ireland’s masterpiece remains securely in the repertoire today. Recordings have been made of all the other works, save the Beachcroft.