Bax and John Ireland
by John Longmire
THE SIR ARNOLD BAX WEB
Last Modified July 1, 1997
This article by John Longmire
first appeared in the August 1969 (Vol. 6) issue of the Sir Arnold
Bax Society Bulletin. Longmire had just published his study,
"Ireland, A Portrait of a Friend" at the time this article
was printed. I want to thank Rob Barnett for making this article
available to me. It is a witty look into the friendship of two of
England's most beloved composers.
There is an hostelry in Sussex which holds a special significance
for me. I refer to "The White Horse," Storrington - a
landmark to the many admirers of Sir Arnold Bax. For me, there is a
duality in my affection for this old Inn, for it was here that I
first met the Master of the King's Musick, in company with my old
friend, John Ireland. It was the venue for many meetings between the
two friends, at several of which I was the interested and
appreciative audience - these were no two ordinary people, and had
one been ignorant of the fact of their distinction, one would still
have felt the strong personalities and striking individuality of
these two fellow-musicians. Bax dedicated his First Symphony to
Ireland in 1922. They knew each other of old, and when the latter
made Ashington his pied-a-terre in 1949, as a relief from the
increasing traffic noises which harassed him at-his home in Chelsea,
they both derived much pleasure in driving around the country-side
with Ireland at the wheel. He was a fast driver - unexpectedly so,
and one of quiet and even seemingly slow reaction - and the outings
were not without their thrills. They both loved Sussex, and it was a
pleasure to share their enjoyment. The beauties, natural and
architectural, were duly noted and commented upon. One day, driving
past a long row of unimaginative and rather drab council houses,
Ireland drew attention to their lack of beauty, to which Bax, in his
kindly way pointed out: "But John, they are these people's
Castles." It amused me when, long after, whenever we happened
to pass these houses, Ireland would remark, in his drawl:
"Those are Bax's Castles." A typical remark, for J.I. was
not above a sly dig at his friend. When they were together this took
the form of a duet in repartee, Ireland's the more caustic, Bax the
more subtle, but thoroughly enjoyed by both parties. "Your work
is too much in a shell, John - it lacks freedom." John listened
attentively: "What do you mean, Arnold - in a shell?"
Arnold knew exactly what he meant by his criticism, for there was as
much diversity in their modes of expressing themselves musically as
in their personalities: "Well you know, Arnold, I always think
your Symphonies have too much tiddle-diddle about them,"
They were old rivals, as well as friends - not only in music had
they crossed swords - the subject of their mutual admiration had
inspired Ireland to write his Sonatina. Nevertheless, Bax won the
day, and Ireland was disconsolate. What he felt at that moment, when
he realized he had lost the object of his affection is written
across the pages of Sonatina with its central theme: C.A.D.
In 1953, Ireland sold his London house where he had lived for 38
years. My wife and I were, at that time, in New Zealand, and we had
noticed that his letters had tended to become more and more
despondent at the unfavorable changes which were turning his quiet
Chelsea road into a noisy and objectionable highway.
A long letter arrives giving the glad news that he had found, and
bought, the house of his dreams - Rock Mill was indeed after his
heart's desire, for as he said: "I have never seen anything at
all like it. It is in a superb situation, with a direct
uninterrupted view of Chanctonbury Ring..."
It was a gay letter, full of detail and excitement, and ended:
"DO WRITE, without delay"
He had wanted to share his good news with us, and his old friend too
was not forgotten. At the end of the closely written pages were the
"What will Bax say, I wonder?"
Alas their Sussex days were over - the letter was dated Sept 27th
1953 - only a short while before Sir Arnold Bax's death in Ireland.