On this day: 20 June 1932

On this day in 1932 Ireland broadcast his First Violin Sonata with violinist May Harrison, seen below with sister Beatrice, also a performer of Ireland’s music.


The formation of the John Ireland Society

On 4 May 1960 the recently-formed John Ireland Society put on its inaugural concert in the Purcell Room, in a programme of songs and chamber music. ‘Adroit and persuasive’, Eric Parkin played a number of Ireland’s piano works, among them Sarnia. The tenor John Steel sang The Land of Lost Content and other songs, accompanied by Alan Rowlands, who also played for Vyvyan Kendall in the First Violin Sonata and for Thea King in the Fantasy-Sonata. The composer, now aged 80, was present, and given a huge ovation. Lawrence Norcross, best known for his work in education, was responsible for the event, and indeed for the society more broadly.


Musical Opinion 83 (June 1960), p. 600.

Competition judges

In 1910 Ireland won first prize (a handsome sum of £40) in the Cobbett competition for his First Violin Sonata in D minor. It is interesting to look at the panel of judges. One was naturally the sponsor of the competition, Walter W. Cobbett (1847–1937). The other three were tenor and composer William Shakespeare (1849–1931), violinist Paul Stoeving (1861–1948) and the millionaire Baron Frédéric Alfred d’Erlanger (1868–1943). Erlanger (right) was a composer and banker, and as such became an important patron of the arts, especially music. Although he worked primarily for the family banking business, he also wrote a number of operas, including Tess (after Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles), and ballets, such as Les Cents Baisers, produced by the Ballets Russes in 1935.

It’s an interesting bunch, if not the most obvious panel for a chamber music competition. But it does make it easy to see why this prize attracted serious prize money: an inflation calculator shows £40 in 1910 as worth £4,296.16 today. Incidentally, second prize went to Eric Gritton (a young student at the RCM), third to a Mr O’Connor Morris and fourth to Susan Spain-Dunk. The monies were provided by Cobbett and Captain Beaumont, who was already an important benefactor and great supporter of William Hurlstone. An anonymous donor contributed a further £20, thus enabling four composers to benefit from this competition.

Source: Musical Times 51/804, February 1910, p.116.



On this day: 30 January 1918 and 1948

On this day in 1948 Ireland played the piano in a performance of his First Violin Sonata with Frederick Grinke the violinist.

30 January 1948

Thirty years earlier on the same date in 1918, Albert Sammons and William Murdoch gave a recital in Cambridge’s Guildhall as part of CUMS. The duo, both in their wartime khaki, played Ireland’s Second Violin Sonata, while Murdoch included ‘The Island Spell’ within a collection of pieces for solo piano.

How Piccadilly inspired an Overture

The Village Hall in Heston in the Borough of Hounslow (this village coincidentally the birthplace of E.J. Moeran) was the setting for an illustrated talk on his music given by Ireland himself. It is fascinating to see what Ireland chose for his talk. He began by introducing the Phantasie-Trio, using the Grinke Trio recording. Following this introduction he played the piano, selecting ‘April’, ‘The Island Spell’ and ‘Ragamuffin’ after a ‘fascinating description of the events and places that supplied the ideas and themes from which the works developed’. The final part of the first half of the talk concluded with excerpts from Grinke’s recording of the First Violin Sonata.

Refreshments followed and the second half resumed with a focus now on orchestral music, featuring Eileen Joyce’s recording of the Piano Concerto with the Hallé. Ireland explained the work’s construction at the piano. The last item of the evening was A London Overture, chosen as an example of the seed from which a composition may grow, with the write-up concluding: ‘Not a small part of the success of this meeting was due to the charm and gracious personality of Dr. Ireland’.

Although the newspaper report that supplies this information and provides the title of this blog post is not identified or dated, existing only as a cutting in a scrapbook, Ireland’s talk can be pinned down as taking place at least after 1940, as that is when Joyce recorded the Concerto. Most likely it was during the early 1940s, before Satyricon and the Fantasy-Sonata, as it would have made sense for Ireland to have included these works otherwise. So a guess is around 1941.

Revisions to the First Violin Sonata

SonataIn 1917 – the same year in which he was completing his Second Violin Sonata – Ireland returned to his First Sonata to make some revisions, with a new edition published in the autumn. One of the main alterations was to the first movement, where some material was removed altogether, and the coda shortened. The first review of the new publication found the end of the first movement ‘greatly improved’, while the beautiful middle section remained untouched. In addition, the tempo markings and other performance directions were simplified, and the print layout generally improved, making the new version ‘an unqualified success’ (Monthly Musical Record, 47, 1 October 1917, p. 229). The act of revision was one that occupied Ireland during both World Wars, particularly where his chamber music was concerned.