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.


An interpretation

In 1941, following a period of intensive bombing and destruction of London, this insightful and enticing view emerged of Ireland ‘that there are in his music profound qualities of beauty and thought which become the more apparent in times of stress and unsettledness. It is to such music that we turn when our souls are troubled, and if only for that reason there are many admirers of this composer who hope it will not be too long before he provided them with another major composition’ (Tempo, August 1941, p. 9). Ireland had recently completed Sarnia and Three Pastels for piano, but no doubt to the delight of this writer was already working on Epic March, first performed the following year.

Ireland’s books: De situ orbis

‘Le Catioroc’, the first movement of Ireland’s Sarnia, carries lines from the De Situ Orbis of Pomponius Mela (d. c. AD45), the earliest Roman geographer:

‘All day long, heavy silence broods, and a certain hidden terror lurks there. But at nightfall gleams the light of fires; the chorus of Ægipans resounds on every side: the shrilling of flutes and the clash of cymbals re-echo the waste shores of the sea.’…

Also known by the title De Chorographia, in this work Mela divides the earth into five zones, describes them and includes a number of maps. A key point in his mapping of the world is his defining and naming of the Orkney Islands. His description is in the form of a voyage around Africa, Asia, and Europe. Mela integrates geographical description with historical, cultural, and mythological information. An English translation from the Latin was made as early as 1585, a version given to Ireland by Arthur Machen.

Eric Parkin’s performance of ‘Le Catioroc’ can be heard HERE.