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Ashgate Publishing Limited; ISBN: 0754601110: 308pp: £45.00

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At last, an in-depth study of the music of John Ireland. Definitive? Yes ... my minor reservations, which grew as I read, have nothing to do with Miss Richards' penetrating analyses of this music which I have known and loved since my 'teens - but I began to realise that, fascinated by the reticence of the man, I may have expected revelations inevitable in any study of a personality. In the end I realised that in fact there was no more to tell! This is no fault of the author, who writes with a cool passion for her subject, and with an exploratory understanding more penetrating than all but a few writers on Ireland hitherto. We must believe, from some of her statements, that she has found the same defences raised around the man as have others who have attempted a 'life'. One might have expected these defences to conceal dark secrets - yet one is forced in the end to the conclusion that the somewhat chatty account of Muriel Searle (a hagiography was hung on the motto theme of the stained glass window) is all there is to tell - on one plane at least, for the darker aspects of John Ireland are there in the music. It seems likely that Ireland's guardian angels really did not understand what is revealed there, a thought made more problematic by Miss Richards' hints that gaps in our knowledge (of which she is well aware) not only from the early life, have been rendered impenetrable by the perhaps well-meaning ministrations of those very guardian angels who zealously protected him in later life. It is quite devastating to think that dedicatory material on manuscript scores could have been obliterated by the hand of another! Even the matter of his homosexuality is the only aspect of his life that, in today's world, might be seized upon for exposure, until it becomes obvious that any hint of pederasty in the cloisters of the Anglican church would at that time have met with instant dismissal.

Thankfully Miss Richards has not written a 'life' - or, rather she HAS written THE life in so far as the outwardly uneventful pattern of Ireland's life appears, its milestones marked clearly, not by high drama, exotic encounters or scandal, riotous social behaviour and the like, but by the appearance of individual compositions in which the passions and conflicts are there, and ONLY there, revealed to those who understand. This book illustrates just how little we know of John Ireland the man - and finally just how little there is to know beyond the music. Perhaps it is for this reason that we have, to this date, no really deep study. Yet the most casual run-through of the musical periodicals of the early twentieth century reveals innumerable articles on specific works, and on aspects of his output, almost all perceptive - and in the case of Crossley-Holland and Stephen Banfield, full of insight. Ireland was in fact (and is) a popular composer, in support of which assertion I have several times cited the continuous sales traffic in the ledgers of his publishers.

What are Miss Richards' sources? An extensive bibliography would seem to spread the net very widely. Yet in the end the resources that can claim justifiably to be authentic boil down to some dozen or so. Of these Schafer (since these thoughts are Ireland's own), Stewart Craggs, Muriel Searle, John Longmire, Norah Kirby and Father Kenneth Thompson, and, though not published, the writings of Peter Crossley-Holland and the Crees lectures of Alan Rowlands, are the most productive. By far the most important of these is Father Thompson since it was to him that Ireland confided those intensely personal thoughts, doubts and ideas that the author identifies in the music. To those others one may resort for facts, sometimes not as accurate as they might seem - as once again the ranks seem now and again to close. The bibliography cites 346 entries, of which some 40/50 are specific articles on the music. For the rest Miss Richards has read widely and significantly - in Arthur Machen (without reading Machen, said Ireland, no one could understand my music,) Jocelyn Brooke, Sylvia Townsend Warner, peripheral, though essential reading overall.

There are also listed letters from Ireland himself, held by the John Ireland Trust - how many is not indicated - to many musical friends. If Miss Richards has read through these, and those items catalogued as "material relating to" (the equally elusive Helen Perkin, Arthur Miller, and Herbert Brown) and has in the process unearthed no shattering revelations other than those expressed at emotional climaxes in the music, then one must conclude that Ireland's life was in no way as bohemian as that of such contemporaries as Augustus John, Philip Heseltine, Grainger or Cyril Scott. Indeed his all-too-human peccadilloes would not be unexpected in the life of any creative artist - and much milder than many another.

In her survey Miss Richards has adopted an original approach - by choosing 'topics' (a strange but here useful categorisation) delineated in the chapter headings of Anglo-Catholicism, Paganism, City, Country, War and Love - developing her thesis coherently from the opening 'encountering' the composer to the ultimate 'knowing' the composer, convincingly substituting a cumulative effect for the usual chronological pattern, which doesn't seem to work with Ireland. This method proves successful, highlighting the very personal 'fingerprints' that we recognise and that belong both to the life and to the music, knitting the two together. We do recognise them - but their personal significance for the composer is made clear by her thoughtful analyses. Her insight into such neglected works as the little known song 'Earth's Call', Ireland at his most ecstatic, is fascinating:

...the intensity mounting further, symbolic surely of an act of passion in this rural setting. The ecstasy is expressed through a series of rising parallel chords, until the E flat rhapsody of bar 15 returns in bar 87. The moment of physical pressure past, the cuckoo call is heard again in bar 89, now a major third, symbolising fulfilment, arrival. The protagonists are sated, reflective, tranquil. In this piece, and typically in Ireland's passionate idylls .. there is always a single moment of climax after which the music is changed in some way." (page 110)

How apt is this to Harold Monro's-

'listen, till we understand, each through the other, every natural sound. I can't hear anything today..'

as the moment of ecstasy passes. Listen even to such a miniature as 'The Towing Path', how on the imagined passing of the draught horse, the scene subtly changes.

She is perspicacious in dealing with the equally neglected 'Legend':

"This [horn call] sets the scene for a dark, brooding evocation. On to this primitive landscape Ireland projects a piano soloist as protagonist, the person entering into the experience. The opening horn motif is compressed and taken up by the pianist … at which point another 'signal' instrument, the gong, confirms the crossing between worlds." (page 85)

Avoiding over-flowery language while dealing with the music's psychological implications, she is generous with music examples which, carefully chosen, underline those 'topics' - the 'passion' element in the characteristic:

containing ecstasy, sadness and resignation - and the 'pagan' element in the unresolved 6/4's of 'Months Mind', and in the ubiquitous 5-3-4-5 motif from 'The Forgotten Rite' - these in themselves simple harmonic/melodic devices, the personal use of which nonetheless sets the music quite apart from that of his fellows.

At the outset Miss Richards seems to put her finger on the problem of the man - 'as elusive as the music' - elusive that is, until her final chapter when, with copious illustration much has been made clear. One returns again to the music - and despite all, its beauty once more is mystifying, an elegiac note running throughout even in the major passages. "It is full of pain and doubt, but it also exudes total optimism" she writes. The high points of Ireland's life are well pointed in this study in purely musical terms - from the sun-pierced shadows of deep woods in the 1904 'prentice orchestral 'Poem' to the peaks of the Second Violin Sonata, the Cello Sonata, The Forgotten Rite, the Piano Sonata (about which work she is curiously ambivalent), the Concerto and the glorious 'My fair' (from Songs Sacred and Profane) - and we are forced to believe that nothing came from his pen that fell below the creative expression enshrined in these pages of music that, like the G.Toc, Maiden Castle, afternoon tea, and the Trooping of the Colour, are part of the heritage of this country, which also has its dark side. Whilst reading, I went frequently to the piano (and occasionally to the dictionary with words like 'hermeneutic', 'autodiegetic' and 'syntagmatic'!). If I have dwelt long on the darker psychological aspects of the music - which is that aspect that many listeners will be unaware of - there is ample confirmation in chapters 'Country' and 'Paganism' of an evocative portrayal of the land of England with all its allusive attributes:

"I should use, as the trees and birds did,
A language not to be betrayed;
And what was hid should still be hid
Excepting from those like me made
Who answer when such whispers bid.
'I never saw that land before' Edward Thomas.

The book is beautifully produced - a must for all lovers not only of music, but of the country, of poetry and of our heritage.

Colin Scott-Sutherland

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