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Ireland, John: London Pieces for piano

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Chelsea Reach; Ragamuffin; Soho Forenoons

Chelsea Reach and Ragamuffin were both composed in 1917. At first they were given the collective title of London: Impressions for Piano, and Chelsea Reach was provisionally called The River. Its ‘subject’ is indeed that view of the Thames between Battersea Bridge and Chelsea Bridge which, as a resident of nearby Gunter Grove, Ireland would have known well. The rhythm of the barcarolle evokes both the flowing river and the music of Chopin.

A character study of a typical London ‘type’ epitomised perhaps in the Artful Dodger though inspired by an actual encounter of the composer’s, Ragamuffin shows affinities with similarly affectionate studies by Ireland. It is a cheeky scherzo whose main idea shares the same contour as Chelsea Reach and whose swagger conceals its careful melodic construction, legacy of the artful craft that the young Ireland learnt as a student of Charles Villiers Stanford at the Royal College of Music.

Soho Forenoons, completed in 1920, describes an area of both reverie and gaiety, with suggestions of secluded courtyards as well as street musicians in the repeated drum-like bass of the middle section. The piece is to be played ‘quasi Tambourine’, and reference to the old French dance suggests the strongly Gallic flavour of this quarter, historically a home for refugees from across the English Channel.

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