Ireland (1879-1962) - A London Overture
Ireland looked to Brahms for form, and like Vaughan Williams to Ravel
(plus Debussy and Stravinsky) for ideas on harmony, texture and rhythm.
Although strongly flavoured by French influences, his distinctive style
encompassed the English “pastoral” tradition, and he contributed significantly
to the English “renaissance”.
of his wide-ranging output - songs, choral, chamber, brass band, and orchestral
music - are his solo piano works, often inspired by the environs of the
Channel Islands. Although he's not over-popular, possibly because
he generally avoided making “big statements”, several of his orchestral
works hover on the fringes of the repertoire: titles such as The Forgotten
Rite (1913), Mai-Dun (1921), the Downland Suite (1932),
and the Satyricon Overture (1946) all have a familiar ring.
Overture owes its existence to the 1934 Crystal Palace Brass Band competition,
which commissioned his Comedy Overture. After the event, he re-worked
its materials, stirring in his impressions of the London where he spent
most of his life. There is a parallel with Elgar's Cockaigne Overture,
both in its inspiration and its admixture of gaiety and introspection.
However, quoting Brahms, “Any fool can see that!” Had these been modern
“movies”, they would probably have been dubbed Cockaigne and Cockaigne
2 - The Return: Ireland's overture reflects a later, post-war London,
well on the way to replacing “organic rose-food” by much less re-usable
approximates a scherzo and trio pattern. The sinister stalking of the slow
introduction is something of a tonal precursor of Stockhausen's punkte-musik:
it feels rather like overhearing fragments of sleeping men's dreams, seeping
from their houses into the nocturnal street.
clarinet cadenza, then a rhythm, “proper perky-like”, introduces
a main subject inspired by a ’bus conductor's cry of “ 'Dilly! Pica-dilly!”
So says the composer, and I can well believe him. A host of subsidiary
ideas crowds in, jostling one another in that ordered chaos typical of
any busy street or market-place. Following hot on the heels of a fanfare
figure comes the counter-subject, a charming “music hall” lyric sung by
solo oboe, and amplified into a colourful climax. The expected repeat of
the main subject unexpectedly bumps into snatches of the introduction and,
we are right back with the opening bars, which fade to reveal a new theme
(the trio), a vision of loveliness on a soulful solo horn, luxuriating
in a bed of woodwind and strings. The usual “interpretation” of this is
as a “peaceful parkland interlude”, but here's another idea: wrapped snugly
around this seductive trio are the only recollections of the introduction,
whose fragments have coalesced to form the trio theme. Now, you could
build a real fantasy on that!
return of the opening bars is appropriately truncated to precede an abbreviated,
but varied and still jollier reprise of the scherzo. By the end, the conductor
('bus conductor, that is) is dillying fit to bust!
© Paul Serotsky
29, Carr Street,
for use apply. Details here
Copyright in these notes is retained by the author without whose prior written permission they may not be used, reproduced, or kept in any form of data storage system. Permission for use will generally be granted on application, free of charge subject to the conditions that (a) the author is duly credited, and (b) a donation is made to a charity of the author's choice.