Ireland in Bournemouth

In April 1924 Ireland took the train to Bournemouth, along with fellow composer Granville Bantock. Travelling there for the Third Bournemouth Festival, they stayed at the Grand Hotel. Bantock was there to conduct his ‘Hebridean’ Symphony, but Ireland too was there to conduct – his relatively recent tone poem Mai-Dun. In the same festival Harriet Cohen played Bax’s Theme and Variations for piano and orchestra, and a number of other composers conducted their own works, among them Dunhill, Howells and Moeran. All concerts were given by the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra, a review in the Telegraph commending them for their Herculean labours (in Lloyd, p.163).

Source: Stephen Lloyd (1995). Sir Dan Godfrey: Champion of British Composers, London, Thames.

Versions of ‘My song is love unknown’

In 1918, while still in his post as organist and choirmaster of St Luke’s, Chelsea, Ireland dashed off a potent little setting of Samuel Crossman’s words of 1664, ‘My song is love unknown’, the first stanza of which is shown below:

My song is love unknown,
My Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I,
That for my sake
My Lord should take
Frail flesh and die?

Ireland’s version, written for The Public School Hymn Book of 1919, became a popular and well-known hymn, heard here as sung at King’s College, Cambridge. In many ways this fluid melody bears all the hallmarks of Ireland’s personal musical style, with its wistful, drooping turn at the end of the first line, and harmonic twist at ‘who am I’.

Less well-known, or rather less knowingly connected to the composer, are two recent works based on Ireland’s hymn tune. One of these is by the Sydney-based composer Paul Stanhope (b.1969) (seen left), who has written a piano quartet bearing the title of the hymn. Stanhope is one of Australia’s most talented creative musicians, with a particular gift for writing chamber and choral music as well as having produced several large-scale orchestral and choral works. His quartet, written in 2000, uses Ireland’s melody, repeating the phrase ‘My song is love’ and passing fragments of the tune across the ensemble. The effect is of a meditation on the hymn, akin to the way in which English composer Judith Weir ruminates on one of her own tunes in her chamber work, Distance and Enchantment, with the full tune gradually emerging before the piece takes off in a different direction altogether. The piece can be heard on Stanhope’s Soundcloud site.

In 2013 Stanhope returned to this hymn for another piece, this time a Piccolo Concerto. His fascinating account of how the piece was written, including his cutting up of Ireland’s melody, turning bits upside down and reconstructing them, can be read here.

Back on the other side of the world, another version of Ireland’s hymn tune appeared in  2005. This time it had a new title, ‘A Message’, part of Coldplay’s third album, X&Y, and one of a number of songs on this album that bears homage to other musicians. In this version the text is only loosely retained, with the words ‘My song is love’ assuming central importance, and Ireland’s melody for these four words forming the basis of the song. In this version it has appeared numerous times across continents. 


Uncle John the composer

I have several times referred to Ireland’s Uncle John Henry Nicholson, the older brother of the composer’s mother Annie. John emigrated to Australia and became known as a teacher and writer. However, he also turned his hand to a certain type of composing, namely patriotic songs.

Several were published, with John providing words and melody only, one of the most commercially successful being Sons of Britannia. This song was much reviewed and very popular, praised for its inspiring sentiment, sonorous ring and ‘valuable addition to what may be termed the literature of Anglo-Saxon unity’ (Brisbane Observer, 15 December 1898). This unity is seen in the splendid cover created for the song. Described as a ‘federation song’, it was ahead of its time, as the official Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act was only formalised on 1 January 1901.

Other songs in similar vein included Rouse, Australians! and Sunrise.












Nephew Tony

In letters to his sister Ethel, Ireland often refers to Tony, her younger son and his nephew. This colourful and complex character was born Walter Anthony Velleman in Zuoz, Switzerland, in 1906, though changed his name more than once. In 1933 Tony married Mary Stella Henrietta, daughter of Canon William Alexander Carroll (at that time the Rector of Wicken) and Nora Jane Bruce Hamilton.

Rector 1921-1929 Canon William Alexander Carroll.

Canon William Alexander Carroll

Always known simply as ‘Terry’, at the lavish Buckinghamshire wedding Tony’s wife wore a fitted gown of parchment satin, with Brussels lace wired to form a Medici collar. The flowers chosen to emphasise the whiteness of the event were orchids, lilies of the valley and white heather (Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press, 22 April, 1933, p.5). Two years later, now in the Old Vicarage, Church Street, Buckingham, the couple issued a statement that they were officially changing their name by deedpoll to Velleman von Simunich.

Tony worked at Eton, for the BBC and as a freelance playwright, often having money troubles. While at Eton he went by the name Baron von Simunich, made broadcasts in Swiss German on the BBC and was eventually sacked for wearing a scarlet cloak at chambers (Blond, 2004, p. 74). Like so many of this extended family, he was a skilled wordsmith with a number of publications. At first these were language textbooks, perhaps following in his linguist father’s footsteps. After the Second World War he produced two plays, Byron in Piccadilly (1945) and A Sea of Troubles (1947).

Ireland was both fond of and frustrated by Tony. He mentions meeting him in 1925, inviting him to tea in Chelsea, writing to his sister that he hoped ‘to be more in touch with him’. Clearly Ireland maintained a relationship with this wayward nephew for a long period, as over twenty years he seems to know Tony’s affairs well. By 1946 Ireland is writing to Ethel that Tony, now living in Hampstead, is heading for bankruptcy, and that as Terry was from the ‘gentry class’ may have encouraged Tony to think he had to live in a certain manner (letter to Ethel, 21 June 1946). Ireland was fond of him, often expressing this in writing: ‘I like Tony personally, & get on very well with him, for, like most people who are entirely devoid of principle and common honesty, he can make himself extremely pleasant, & is highly cultured’ (letter to Ethel, 6 July 1946). The composer’s letters give insight into his nephew’s character and indeed his own: ‘It needs considerable tact to get on with Tony – but that is true of all members of the Ireland family, who take offence extremely easily, and are very difficult to get on with. We all have that reputation’ (letter to Ethel, 28 October 1947).

In 1947 a rift between Tony and the composer developed, and by 1948 Ireland was writing: ‘I had to be excessively careful in talking to him to avoid a violent hysterical outburst on his part. He cannot be treated as a normal human being. He inherits not only the Nicholson nervous instability, but also the fantastic ego-mania and self-esteem of his father’ (letter to Ethel, 13 March 1948).

Tony was now in a state of poor mental health and his wife had taken over all financial John Somerset Murray, by John Somerset Murray - NPG x68226
matters. The marriage eventually broke down and Terry remarried the renowned photographer John  Somerset Murray (1904–92), seen right, who had for many years run a studio in Chelsea in Sloane Street, also exhibiting at one of Ireland’s favourite haunts, Chelsea Arts Club. Happily Tony did find a new path of his own, moving to Belfast and continuing to write to Uncle Jack. The last we know of their relationship is that Tony wrote in 1956 hoping to meet up with Ireland in London.


Sources:; Northampton Mercury – Friday 09 December 1932, p.9; Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press, 1 September 1934 p.8; British Library sound recordings (; British Library letters from John Ireland to Ethel Ireland; Anthony Blond (2004).  Jew Made in England, London, Timewell Press.

Second Violin Sonata in Nottingham in 1952

In 1952 Frederick Grinke once again played Ireland’s Second Violin Sonata, this time in the YWCA Hall in Nottingham, with Kendall Taylor at the piano. The two other works in the programme were Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata and Brahms’s Sonata in G major. A review of this concert, shown below, particularly liked Grinke’s unassuming manner and ‘delicate’ technique.


On this day: 2 August 1949 and 1952

On this day in 1949 John Ireland’s Overture ‘Satyricon’ opened that evening’s Prom, in a concert that also included works by Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and Rimsky-Korsakov. On this occasion Malcolm Sargent conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

On this day in 1952 Ireland’s Piano Concerto was featured, with Colin Horsley (seen below) as soloist and Basil Cameron conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.