Ireland’s books: Music for the man who enjoys Hamlet

One of the books on Ireland’s shelves was the curiously-named Music for the man who enjoys Hamlet, by R.H. Haggin. Haggin starts from the premise that Hamlet is the deepest expression of poetic feeling and explores the idea that those who appreciate the play can go on to appreciate music. Haggin centres his ambitious little book on Beethoven, and in particular on Opus 111.

It’s an interesting attempt to teach listening skills, as reviewed in 1948:

Haggin

An earlier review of 1945 liked this book very much, particularly for the charm of its presentation: ‘Almost never didactic or condescending, he communicates simply and persuasively his sane enthusiasm of wide experience to arouse the latent response of the intelligent novice, in a style which suggests a stimulating conversation rather than a lecture’.

Clearly Ireland liked books of this type, as he owned a large number of didactic works on all sorts of musical topics.

Sources:

Reviews: Music for the Man Who Enjoys ‘Hamlet’ by B. H. Haggin, Music & Letters, Vol. 29, No. 3 (Jul., 1948), pp. 298-299 and by Philip Greeley Clapp, The Kenyon Review, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Spring, 1945), pp. 328-330.

Ireland’s books: Observations on Popular Antiquities

One of the books on Ireland’s shelves was John Brand’s Observations on Popular Antiquities. This is a fascinating collection of ceremonies and customs, with all sorts of little nuggets contained within. For example, laurel was an emblem of peace, joy and victory, and Saturn was worshipped by pagans. On May Day there was a custom to go to the woods the night before, break down branches and adorn them with flowers in honour of the goddess Flora.

The folklore in this book finds its way into Ireland’s music, most notably in these two piano works:

The Boy Bishop

‘Boy bishop’ was a name for a custom common from medieval times whereby scholars/choristers elected three of their number. One had to play the role of the bishop, the other two the deacons. The ‘boy bishop’ was escorted by other boys in solemn procession to the church where he wore a mitre and presided over worship. The boys then went singing from door to door, demanding money as the Bishop’s subsidy. The custom was widespread across Europe. In England the boy bishop was elected on Saint Nicholas Day, his authority lasting until Holy Innocents’ Day.

Month’s Mind

The wistful little piano piece, Month’s Mind, is prefaced by a quote from Brand’s book, referring to an ancient custom whereby it was possible to arrange for a special service, a ‘Month’s Mind’, to be said a month after death.

John Brand (1744-1806) published his Observations on the popular antiquities of Great Britain: Including the Whole of Mr. Bourne’s Antiquitates Vulgares in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in 1777, the work generally abreviated to Popular Antiquities. Into it he incorporated the earlier (1725) complete Popular Antiquities of Henry Bourne. Brand’s volume was added to and revised a number of times, eventually reworked by William Hazlitt as an alphabetical dictionary in 1905, becoming Brand’s popular antiquities of Great Britain : faiths and folklore ; a dictionary of national beliefs, superstitions and popular customs, past and current, with their classical and foreign analogues, described and illustrated. It is almost certainly this edition that Ireland owned and used.

Ireland’s books: A Tale of Two Worlds

One of the books on Ireland’s shelves was A Tale of Two Worlds. A familiar name on the spine of the book was Frank Carr Nicholson, the composer’s cousin. He co-wrote this epic in 1953 with a British-Canadian friend, Georgina Sime.

It was quite a departure for Frank after his life as a scholar of German medieval literature and librarian at Edinburgh University, part of his new life in retirement in the Lake District, he having returned to the place of his Nicholson roots.

Frank wrote to Ireland in August 1953:

…when one has retired from professional life it is nice to have some congenial employment to which one can apply oneself more or less steadily. Since I came to Keswick I have certainly never found time hang heavily, and one of my main and constant occupations has been to collaborate with an old friend of mine, Miss Sime, in writing of one kind or another. We got a long-an enormously long!- novel published a couple of months ago-I wonder if you would at all care to have a look at it. Probably you have quite eschewed novels long ago ( as I too have done for many years past so far as reading the, is concerned!) but you might possibly like to sample this one in an idle moment, for there is a good deal about music in it that might conceivably entertain you. 

The book is certainly interesting, even a compelling read, focused on generations of a Viennese family, some of whom emigrate to Canada to find new lives. Music is a central theme, and the style of the writing is reminiscent of the Australian author Nevil Shute. He was extremely popular at that time, having recently published his bestselling A Town Like Alice. Perhaps the most arresting aspect of A Tale of Two Worlds is the focus on ‘family’, an increasing preoccupation of the composer, who was trying to unearth his own, elusive relatives. It’s also an oddly moving book, ending as it does with a reflection on the human frailties and incomplete stories of the people who constitute families, everyone ‘trying, trying, and none of them ever getting at the truth-at what this particular life on earth means for each of us’ (p.682).

Sources:

British Library: Letter from Frank Nicholson in John Ireland: Personal Correspondence, MS Mus. 1749/2/10

Nicholson, F. and Sime, G. (1953) A Tale of Two Worlds, Frome and London, Butler and Tanner.

Ireland’s books: Raffles the amateur cracksman

One of the books in Ireland’s possession was The Amateur Cracksman, a collection of short stories by E.W. Hornung. Ernest William Hornung (1866–1921) was an English author and poet remembered almost exclusively for his creation of the suave criminal character Raffles, based partly on Oscar Wilde. Hornung’s son was killed in Ypres in 1915, after which tragedy he turned to writing poetry and undertaking war work.

The Amateur Cracksman was based in Victorian England, featuring the central character of A.J. Raffles, a gentleman thief . First published in 1899, there were further collections of stories and numerous reprints – Ireland’s version dates from 1956. There were also several instances of its transference to screen, including a 1939 film version starring David Niven (below). Ireland may even have seen this as he was a regular cinema-goer. The book can be read HERE.

Sussex in words: ‘Over to Burpham’

This is another in the ‘Sussex in words’ blog series, taking evocative passages to show some of the ways in which the county is captured in words, their meanings often close in sensibility to Ireland’s way of thinking about the downland landscape he loved so well.

Walter Wilkinson’s A Sussex Peep-Show was published in 1933. Wilkinson (1888–1970) was a
puppeteer, writer and artist. He travelled widely, capturing in words much of his life as a wandering entertainer. A Sussex Peep-Show is a marvellous collection of descriptions of Sussex, including this extract, ‘Over to Burpham’, which covers an area well known to the composer at this time:


We headed for a world of green ridges and deep valleys, of long stretches of pasture dotted with wandering sheep. Flowers of blue and gold, and red and white, blazoned our way, and we walked from the great grassy spaces into weird, wild little copses of hawthorn, and elder, and small oaks. We emerged from the mossy woods of stunted trees to the long undulations of the lower Downs, the wide spaces of pasture and large, open tracts of young corn ending with the steep rampart of Arundel Park rising over the valley of the river Arun. The sun poured into this huge basin of grass, casting a spell upon the earth, and we walked a drowsy dreamland, bright with flowers and green grass, odorous with mild herbs, and gently lulled by the passing breeze. We followed the Lepers’ Path, passing old barrows and entrenchments grass-grown and rounded with age, seeming to walk in the primeval times of innocence and beauty…

 A reader of Wilkinson’s A Sussex Peep-Show in 2014 writes:

I have just discovered W.W. and am three quarters of the way through ‘A Sussex Peep-Show’. I am born and bred at the foot of the Sussex Downs and a hiker of these Downs. Such is the writing that I can smell the grass and fields and flowers and see the endless sky and the soft slopes and trees, the sun and wind on my face. If I cannot get onto the Downs then all I have to do is pick up the book and read. Absolutely brilliant.

(https://clivehicksjenkins.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/walter-wilkinson-and-the-peep-show-revival/)

 

Sussex in words: ‘The Gentle Downs’

This is another in the ‘Sussex in words’ blog series, taking evocative passages  to show some of the ways in which the county is captured in words, their meanings often close in sensibility to Ireland’s way of thinking about the downland landscape he loved so well.

One nineteenth-century writer who contributed to the literature on Sussex was William Harrison Ainsworth (1805–82). He has interesting links to the composer’s family in that he was born in Manchester and worked in publishing before he turned to writing. He knew several of the same authors as Ireland’s father, for example Charles Lamb and Thomas Carlyle. There is even some evidence that Ainsworth knew Alexander Ireland in person, the two men attending a banquet given by the Mayor of Manchester  in 1881.

Ainsworth came to know Sussex through his friendship with Reverend William Sergison of Cuckfield Place,  writing Ovingdean Grange in 1860, from which the passage below is taken.

No hills can be more beautiful than these South Downs. They may want height, boldness, grandeur, sublimity; they possess not forest, rock, torrent, or ravine; but they have gentleness, softness, and other endearing attributes. We will not attempt to delineate the slight but infinite varieties of form and aspect that distinguish one hill from its neighbour; for though a strong family likeness marks them all, each Down has an individual character. Regarded in combination with each other, the high ranges form an exquisite picture.

Sussex in words: ‘The Mysterious Weald’

The life and work of Gerard Young SUS-151106-142459001Earlier I posted an entry on one of Ireland’s books, The Sussex Bedside Anthology. ‘Sussex in words’ is a new blog series that takes evocative passages from this rich book to show some of the ways in which the county is captured in words, their meanings often close in sensibility to Ireland’s way of thinking about the downland landscape he loved so well.

The descriptive passage below, ‘The Mysterious Weald’, which evokes in prose the eerieness of the Sussex landscape that Ireland suggests in music, is taken from Gerard Young’s Come Into the Country (1943). Young (1912–72, above) lived in a cottage in the village of Flansham, close to Bognor Regis, publishing several other Sussex-related works, including The Chronicle of a Country Cottage (1942) and Down Hoe Lane (1950).

This is rather a mysterious time of the year in this part of the country. If I were to take you one evening up one of those muddy tracks that lead to the top of the Downs and we went plunging on through the tangled bracken and slippery grass, we would eventually find ourselves on a frosty ridge overlooking a twilit world that sprawls eight hundred feet below; a dark country between the North and South Downs that with the coming of Christmas draws down over itself the murky cloak of Legend. This is the Sussex Weald, an ancient country of secret places, hidden villages, river sources, silent pools, dim glades and forgotten roads. We have our Kingley Vale, just over there in the Downs behind Chichester, a valley in which lie dead Danish kings, a place which at dusk on days like these, so E.V. Lucas says, is transformed into a ‘sinister and fantastic forest, a home for witchcraft and unquiet spirits.

Yew woods, Kingley Vale

Yew woods, Kingley Vale Photograph © Copyright Jim Champion and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence