John Ireland

I was taught not to open a presentation, pitch, or letter with an apology.

Having avoided that with those words, I can now apologise for radio silence.

I don’t know where the time has gone. I always dread the arrival of September, marking, as it does, the end of summer, and a quite magnolious one at that.

This year, the final Test Match against India took place after The Last Night of the Proms, the occasion which I usually accept as the vestige of summer months. But there has surely never been a more emphatic announcement of its passing than the sight and sound of Mohammed Shami’s middle stump being uprooted, to give Jimmy Anderson his wicket-taking record.

One wicket required. Last batsman. No more matches this summer.

And then, in an instant, a split second if ever there was one, mission accomplished. With it, right then, summer 2018 and my first sight of a beach for over ten years, was over. Love this view.


None of which bears much of a connection to today’s musical offering, but serves as an elaborate excuse for my distractions. Except that the piece I’ve chosen clings on to those balmy days one last time, even if we are well and truly into autumn.

John Ireland (1879-1962) was one of those English composers whose name has been somewhat dwarfed by the likes of William Walton, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Benjamin Britten: most likely because he confined himself to predominantly miniature works, especially for piano; and with no symphonies or operas to his name, his legacy was always going to be an uphill battle. Happily it is gaining traction.

Ireland did not have a happy childhood. His publisher father, on his second marriage, was 69 when he was born to a mother thirty years younger than her husband. With a gap like that, you’d be forgiven for expecting her to get in at least one more spouse  – but she actually predeceased him when John was just 14. His father followed her the following year.

The impression you get is that of a lost soul, but the man had talent enough to go to The Royal Academy, where many years later he taught Britten (who was characteristically disparaging about him). His personal life was a struggle. In haste, he married a 17 year old pupil; but far from repenting at leisure, they were divorced with equal haste and without consummation. Tchaikovsky did the same sort of thing, and it is widely recognised that Ireland’s tendencies were similar to the great man.

Despite his internal struggles, he has left some lovely music. Many will be familiar with the hymn My song is love unknown, a personal favourite, for which Ireland composed the music. He was organist at both St.Luke’s in Chelsea and Holy Trinity, Sloane Square.

His music comes under the banner of English Impressionism. The Downland Suite was composed for a brass band competition in 1932 (it didn’t win) and has since been transcribed for strings. The third movement, The Minuet, is possibly the most famous.

There is nothing gushing about this and it could so easily have been written by Elgar. It is in praise of the countryside, especially Sussex, where Ireland is buried.

So, yes, summer is behind us, but this is charm and Englishness at its purest.

Click on the image for one last celebration of sun and greenery –