Constructing a performance history: Ireland’s Piano Concerto

Basil Cameron

The construction of a performance history, that is, a comprehensive survey and analysis of the history of the performance of a particular work, brings together different approaches and sources. Ireland’s Piano Concerto in E flat major, written in 1930, offers scope for a particularly interesting exploration, given its popularity and performance by many pianists across the world. Some of the questions that might be asked include:

  • Who first performed the work, and did this have a bearing on its composition? Do letters survive charting the relationship between the composer and the exponent?
  • How was the work first received?
  • Who subsequently performed the piece, and what do recordings of / writing about their playing tell us?
  • What can we learn about individual performers and conductors?
  • What can we learn about period or national styles?
  • What might we learn by studying annotated scores?
(Stuart) Angus Morrison, by Gordon Anthony, 1938 - NPG x44768 - © reserved; collection National Portrait Gallery, London

Angus Morrison

Colin_Horsley_TullyPotter1.jpg (650×650)

Colin Horsley

Ireland’s concerto has so far been performed at the Proms on 27 occasions, as tabled below. This table throws up some very interesting statistics. It was played nearly every year for 30 years, then only rarely. It was championed by Boult, Sargent and Cameron. It was played most often by Clifford Curzon.

PIANIST ORCHESTRA DATE OTHER INFORMATION
Helen Perkin BBCSO / Sir Henry Wood 2 October 1930 First performance
Helen Perkin BBCSO / Sir Henry Wood 24 September 1931
Angus Morrison BBCSO / Sir Henry Wood 5 September 1933
Helen Perkin BBCSO / Sir Henry Wood 29 September 1934
Arthur Rubinstein BBCS0 / Sir Henry Wood 1 September 1936
Clifford Curzon BBCS0 / Sir Henry Wood 1 October 1938 Last Night of the Proms
Clifford Curzon BBCS0 / Sir Henry Wood 16 September 1939 Also performed by Curzon at Carnegie Hall, March 1939
Clifford Curzon BBCSO / Adrian Boult 30 July 1942 Royal Albert Hall
Clifford Curzon LPO / Basil Cameron 10 July 1943
Moura Lympany BBCSO / Boult 5 August 1944
Clifford Curzon LSO / Cameron 16 August 1945
Kendall Taylor BBCSO / Cameron 7 September 1946
Kendall Taylor BBCSO / Stanford Robinson 29 July 1947
Eileen Joyce BBCSO and LSO / Cameron 18 September 1948 Last Night of the Proms. Joyce had already recorded the concerto with Leslie Heward in 1942.
Eileen Joyce LPO / Boult 10 September 1949 John Ireland 70th Anniversary Concert
Kendall Taylor BBCSO / Sargent 11 January 1950 Winter Prom
Colin Horsley BBCSO / Sargent 22 August 1950
Kendall Taylor BBCSO / Sargent 31 July 1951
Colin Horsley LSO / Cameron 2 August 1952 Horsley recorded the concerto with Cameron in 1958
Eric Parkin BBCSO / Sargent 5 September 1953
Eric Parkin BBCSO / Sargent 13 August 1954
Gina Bachauer BBCSO / Cameron 17 September 1955 Last Night of the Proms
Colin Horsley BBCSO / Cameron 20 September 1958 Last Night of the Proms
Eric Parkin BBCSO / Sargent 14 August 1959 One of a number of works by John Ireland for his 8th birthday. Parkin recorded the concerto with Boult in 1968.
Philip Fowke BBCScottish Symphony Orchestra / Sir Simon Rattle 13 August 1979 Performed for John Ireland anniversary
Kathryn Stott BBC Concert Orchestra / Nicholas Cleobury 14 August 1982 Stott recorded the concerto with Vernon Handley in 1990.
Kathryn Stott BBCSO / Sir Andrew Davis 22 August 1983
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