Ireland’s church music was and continues to be much-performed. An instance of the popularity and durability of this part of his musical output can be seen on 6 January 1939, when his Communion Office in C formed part of the Festival of the Epiphany of our Lord at St James’s Palace.
The immensely talented and individual violinist Fred Grinke was a wonderful advocate of English music, known for his association with John Ireland. He played both of the composer’s violin sonatas on many occasions, as well as the three piano trios. One regular accompanist was Dorothy Manley, shown left.
A series of reviews collected by the young Grinke, undated, as seen below, make mention of the Second Violin Sonata in A minor in particular. The regular partnership of Grinke and Manley is praised for its ‘smoothness of ensemble’, and Ireland’s sonata is widely considered to bring out Grinke’s depth of feeling. One commentator sees this piece as showing this violinist to ‘outstanding advantage’ in the long, sweeping phrases of the second movement.
In Cheltenham on 6 July 1950 a delightful concert of British music included works by William Alwyn, Vaughan Williams and John Ireland. For Vaughan Williams, it was the occasion of the 100th performance of his magnificent Symphony no.6. For Alwyn, it saw the premiere of his Symphony in D. And for Ireland, it was another outing for his ‘brilliant, witty, and beautiful’ overture Satyricon. The performers at the festival were Sir John Barbirolli and the Hallé Orchestra.
Source: The Times, 7 July 1950, page 6.
On 6 January 1947 the winter Promenade season at the Albert Hall opened with a varied musical programme, featuring the BBCSO under Sir Adrian Boult and Basil Cameron. Alongside Beethoven and Sibelius were two British works: Britten’s Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell and Ireland’s overture Satyricon. Satyricon, a joyous depiction of Petronius’s gallery of rogues, had been premiered at the Proms the previous year. The use of spiky, angular xylophone, brittle winds and whip contrasts with one of Ireland’s long, luscious melodies and the floating clarinet solo created for Frederick Thurston. Cameron conducted the two British works, and therefore, according to a reviewer, ‘had most of the fun’.
The boy Giton from Satyricon
Source: The Times, 7 January 1947, page 6.
On 13 November 1923 Ireland’s symphonic poem, Mai-Dun, was performed by the LSO at the Queen’s Hall under Australian conductor Aylmer Buesst (below) The review of the concert makes for entertaining reading. Not only was the conductor too fidgety, but Ireland’s melodies were ‘extraordinarily jejune’. This harsh assessment extended to other works in the programme. A new piece by Herbert Bedford, Hamadryad, was ‘anaemic’, so maybe Ireland came off lightly. At least the reviewer gave him the benefit of giving a lift to his melodies with his harmonies!
Source: The Times, 14 November 1923, page 8.
On 1 December 1939, Ireland’s Phantasie Trio was performed in Dorking Halls. The performers were Margot MacGibbon, Peers Coetmore and Frederic Jackson, these three all students together at the RAM (MacGibbon and Jackson went on to marry). Jackson often accompanied Coetmore in duo recitals, and MacGibbon and Coetmore also played together in a string quartet. Vaughan Williams gave a lecture as part of this event, one of a series of early war-time concert lectures in Dorking. The other works performed were piano trios by Mozart and Beethoven. Ireland himself was not present, living at that time on Guernsey.
On Holy Saturday in 1906 festal Evensong at St Luke’s, Chelsea, commenced at 6pm. One of Ireland’s choristers, Stuart Taylor, sang ‘I know that my redeemer liveth’.
On 20 November 1920 two of Ireland’s songs were performed in a ballad concert. The composer was at the piano to accompany his friend and regular singer of his music, George Parker. Parker also performed three of Stanford’s Songs of a Roving Celt.
The Enoch ballad concerts were held on Saturday afternoons at Westminster’s Central Hall, founded by the music publishing firm Enoch & Sons. Through these concerts they aimed to ‘make the best of both worlds’, in the sense that they were intended to attract and please a non-specialist audience.
Unfortunately for the composer, his new songs were on this occasion not very positively received. This reviewer hoped that Ireland was not about to embark on a career as a balladist, and indeed that was not the route he took after 1920!
Source: ‘New Songs by John Ireland’, The Observer, 21 November 1920, p.17.
For many years the month of December was, for John Ireland, one associated with carols and the church. On 24 December 1904, in his new role as organist and choir director at St Luke’s, Chelsea, he managed his first full choral evensong for Christmas Eve, ‘when the warmth and brightness of the large Church within must have contrasted pleasantly with the murky, misty atmosphere outside’ (St Luke’s parish magazines, 1905, p.12). To begin, the hymn ‘All my heart this night rejoices‘ was sung. The usual anthem was replaced with the carol ‘The manger throne’, and the offertory hymn was ‘It came upon the midnight clear’. After the blessing Ireland and his choir performed ‘A Virgin unspotted, the prophet foretold‘. The church was richly decorated with laurel and holly. Red tulips stood in dramatic contrast to white chrysanthemums and narcissus flowers.
While it is well known that Ireland was the organist at two Chelsea churches, Holy Trinity and St Luke’s, it is less common knowledge that for a short time in 1897 he took over from Vaughan Williams as organist of St Barnabas, South Lambeth. Ireland recalled that Vaughan Williams’s duties at the church were ‘prodigious’, and in addition to the normal work of a church organist and choirmaster, he ran a choral society and an orchestral society in connection with this church. Indeed, Ireland’s first duties on taking over were to prepare performances of two big choral works: Mendelssohn’s Lauda Sion and Stanford’s Revenge (‘Tributes to Vaughan Williams’, The Musical Times, October 1958, p.536). Vaughan Williams returned to the post after six months, leaving the church in 1899.