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The John Ireland Companion - edited by Lewis Foreman
The Boydell Press, hardback 74 b/w photographs, 34 b/w illus. + musical examples: 568 pages.
IBSN 978-1-84383-686-5
£35.61

Experience Classicsonline


 
This welcome new volume goes a long way towards lifting the veils from so many aspects of John Ireland’s life. We can now appreciate, more clearly, his life and music together with his musical tastes and his reflections on his teachers (particularly Stanford) and his own students (including Benjamin Britten). Hitherto, his biographers had tended to be circumspect particularly Muriel Searle, who, in writing John Ireland – The Man and his Music Midas Books - 1979, experienced, as one contributor knowingly comments, ‘Norah Kirby looking over her shoulder.’ Norah Kirby was Ireland’s housekeeper of his later years and was a zealous ‘keeper of the flame’. Fiona Richards’ The Music of John Ireland, published by Ashgate in 2000, pushed aside the veils rather more.
 
Fuller details of John Ireland’s personal life await some future biography but his sexuality is discussed and treated lightly and sympathetically. One comes away with the impression that here was a tormented individual: shy, difficult, abrasive, over-sensitive yet kind and gentle. He was distrustful of women. The only woman seemingly to have come anywhere close to him, Helen Perkin, was pushed aside after her own career developed and after her marriage. Light is also shed on Ireland’s religious beliefs; his devout Anglicanism at odds with his growing interest in pantheism and the occult.
 
Frankly, of more interest to Ireland fans are the numerous essays on the composer’s own musical tastes and his early years at the Royal College of Music; especially his studies with Stanford. We learn how he was made to make an extended and rigorous study of the music of Palestrina for instance. His fondness for the music of Beethoven is covered in the text and as a 1949 BBC talk on the accompanying CD together with his ‘Recollections of Stanford’ programme. Another Beethoven essay, ‘Beethoven – A Speech for the Opposition’ demonstrates that Ireland’s love of that composer was not blind. My guess is that many music lovers, other than Beethoven-worshipers, would tend to agree with his controversial comments.
 
Ireland’s musical enthusiasms are seen to be wide and eclectic. They ranged from Gershwin - particularly the song, ‘The Man I Love’ - through Palestrina and Beethoven to Ravel and Debussy. He also revered Richard Strauss’s Don Juan and Ein Heldenleben. His noisy enthusiasm for the latter, according to one commentator, disconcerted at least one concert audience.
 
There are numerous music illustrations dotted throughout the book and 74 photographic illustrations some of which I cannot recall having seen before. The recordings on the accompanying CD are of varying quality; some, it has to be said, are scratchy and distorted. The inclusion of two piano rolls of Ireland’s piano playing are invaluable in allowing us to appreciate distinctly his very individual and authoritative style. We can hear, for instance, his playing of Amberley Wild Brooks. It is very evocative; little wonder that he wanted all his notes played unhurriedly and in awareness of his chordal progressions.
 
Many Ireland artefacts were kept by Norah Kirby in her Steyning house before she had to enter a nursing home in Kent from where so many went missing. I am not sure if Ireland’s record collection was included amongst them but it would have been a very interesting addition to this Companion if a list could have been included.
 
In a collection such as this by some two dozen contributors there are clearly numerous repetitions. That said, the smaller details of Ireland’s life seem somehow to have escaped. I think of his love of antiques, motor cars and cats – especially the latter. I remember Norah Kirby telling me that he always made time to fondle and talk to all the cats he met and how he always remembered their names. He was especially fond of one ginger-coloured cat that frequented the churchyard of Shipley, West Sussex where Ireland is buried.
 
A final word and a link with another British composer of whom Lewis Foreman has written extensively – Arnold Bax. A touching inclusion, towards the end of the book, is a photograph of a hand-written letter written dated November 2nd 1953, sent by Ireland from his home in Rock Mill, Washington, West Sussex, to Mary Gleaves in nearby Storrington. Mary was Arnold Bax’s close companion. It was a letter of condolence after Bax died near Cork in the Republic of Ireland where he was planning to retire. John Ireland wrote, ‘I was terribly shocked to hear the sad news…..you have my deepest sympathy in the loss of so dear a friend, which, as yet, I can scarcely realize or believe.’
 
Link to review of the Companion by John France

  Ian Lace
 
Overview of the List of Contents

1 Foreword by Julian Lloyd Webber
2 John Ireland - a life in music
3 John Ireland: a personal discovery
4 Meeting John Ireland
5 John Ireland's personal world
6 Interview with John Ireland
7 Aprahamian, Bush, Markes, Morrison, Thompson remember John Ireland
8 John Ireland and the BBC
9 Sea Fever: John Ireland and Deal
10 Remembering John Ireland and His World
11 Arthur Machen and John Ireland
12 Helen Perkin: pianist, composer and muse of John Ireland
13 John Ireland and Charles Markes: a creative relationship
14 The John Ireland Charitable Trust
15 John Ireland: some musical fingerprints
16 John Ireland and the piano
17 John Ireland in the Concert Hall: Orchestral and Choral-Orchestral Music
18 The Happy Highways: John Ireland's Chamber music
19 The Church Music of John Ireland
20 The Organ Music
21 The Songs of John Ireland
22 Songs of Innocence: the part-songs of John Ireland
23 John Ireland and Poetry: a singer's experience
24 John Ireland on Record
25 John Ireland: a personal impression
26 Arnell, Britten, Bush, Moeran and Searle: Ireland's Pupils on their Teacher
27 John Ireland: two reminiscences
28 Appreciation and biographical sketch
29 Piano Sonata
30 Discovering John Ireland
31 John Ireland
32 John Ireland the Man
33 Modern British Composers: John Ireland
34 John Ireland's Writings on Music
35 Appendices: John Ireland's Addresses and a Note on John Ireland's handwriting
36 Catalogue of works
37 Discography

The CD contains:
 
The Voice of John Ireland - Two talks: ‘Recollections of Stanford’ and ‘My Introduction to Beethoven’
 
Concertino Pastorale (eclogue only) Boyd Neel
 
John Ireland as pianist from broadcasts: The Towing Path and Chelsea Reach
John Ireland as pianist from piano rolls : Amberley Wild Brooks and Ragamuffin
 
John Ireland Sonatina played by Helen Perkin
 
Songs by John Ireland recorded in his lifetime on 78s:-
 
‘Hope the Hornblower’ (Thomas Case with orchestra)
‘The Bells of San Marie’ (Hubert Eisdell)
‘When Lights Go Rolling Round the Sky’ (Peter Dawson, Madam Amani, pf)
‘Sea Fever’ (Fraser Gange)
‘Sea Fever’ (Betty Chester, Melville Gideon pf.)
‘The Soldier’ (Roy Henderson, Ivor Newton pf)
 
John Ireland conducting his own music:
The Forgotten Rite (excerpt) BBC SO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 


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