Ireland, John: The Collected Works for Piano: Volume 6
A Sea Idyll (I)
A Sea Idyll (II)
A Sea Idyll (III)
Elegy from A Downland Suite
Menuet from A Downland Suite
Meine Seele erhebt den Herren (from A Bach Book for Harriet Cohen)
This long-awaited addition to The Collected Piano Works of John Ireland contains a wealth of music either previously unknown or out-of-print which will be enthusiastically received not only by pianists but by all admirers of this remarkable composer. During his lifetime Ireland suppressed a number of his early works considered to be unrepresentative of his mature style, but which fortunately have survived, several now being preserved in the British Library. Chief of these is the First Rhapsody, a striking and virtuosic score here published for the first time. Already twice-recorded, this twelve-minute work is undoubtedly a major addition to the repertoire of British romantic keyboard music; and, like A Sea Idyll, available here for the first time in its original three-movements, it significantly enhances our understanding of the formative stages of Ireland’s path to artistic maturity.
Volume Six of the Collected Piano Works also contains a number of transcriptions, made by Ireland for a diversity of purposes. His arrangement of Bach’s Meine Seele erhebt den Herren was a contribution to the famous A Bach Book for Harriet Cohen of 1932. In contrast, his hefty piano-solo version of the orchestral Epic March of 1942 was in part a patriotic contribution to the war effort made by an elderly composer who had narrowly escaped the German occupation of his beloved Guernsey in May 1940.
There are two pieces which besides being attractive in themselves are of considerable musicological significance for those interested in Ireland’s compositional process. Long out-of-print, Indian Summer is an earlier version of The Cherry Tree from the suite Greenways, while Ballerina survived in manuscript as a forerunner of Columbine – like Indian Summer, a fascinatingly distinctive variation on the more familiar composition. All four show Ireland’s mastery at polishing and refining an idiom based on an exquisite ear for keyboard harmony and texture. It is a mastery no less evident in the Edwardian salon idiom of the brief Villanella and in the Elegy and Menuet from A Downland Suite, originally for brass band.
With such a wealth of material furnishing insights into Ireland’s creative development, it is appropriate that Volume Six should also present one of the earliest of all his compositions for piano, a Pastoral written in 1896. Though brief, it is a rare and prescient example of his music before he began his studies with Stanford. In it, Fiona Richards, a leading expert on the composer, identifies ‘germs of the composer’s pastoral style that were to be refined over the next twenty years,’ and ‘a pervasive melancholy and pensiveness that was to become a feature of Ireland’s mature pieces.’