Ireland made many acerbic comments about other British composers, especially a younger generation, so it comes as a surprise to read his positive thoughts on William Walton’s music, as expressed in a letter to his sister Ethel on 5 April 1935:
‘On Tuesday night last I went to hear William Walton’s “unfinished” Symphony (he has so far only completed 3 movements..). It is very fine, the best British music written, except by Elgar. I was greatly moved by it, a very rare experience. It is not ultra-modern, & seems to come into the big classical line, altho’ it is intensely individual, in feeling & technique. It is grand & tragic, & very sincerely & deeply felt, & packed with invention. However, my opinion is not shared by all, tho’ I am quite sure I am right.’
This was Walton’s Symphony no. 1 in B flat minor. As cross-referenced against contemporary reviews, the performance that Ireland heard took place under the auspices of the Courtauld-Sargent Concerts on Tuesday 2 April 1935, having also been performed at Queen’s Hall the night before. It was completed later that year and premiered (again at Queen’s Hall) by Sir Hamilton Harty and the BBC Symphony Orchestra on 6 November, one reviewer commenting on the new ‘brilliant ending’ and ‘remarkable eloquence’ of the symphony as a whole (Times, 7 Nov 1935, p. 12). It seems that Ireland’s judgement was indeed right, as the work has remained one of the significant British symphonies of the twentieth century, performed and recorded many times.