This article was written as part of a John Ireland Centenary Programme broadcast by the B.B.C. in October 1979. It gave a portrait of the British composer, John Ireland, of whom Alan Bush said: "I don't think people have any idea of how passionate his music really is - nearly all of it".
by Alan Bush
From 1918 to 1922 I was a student at the Royal Academy of Music. One of my piano professors was Miss Lily West, who had performed some of John Ireland's piano music in public. I studied his London Pieces, composed in 1917-1920, and his Sonata, composed in 1918-1920. Miss Lily West introduced me to him personally in 1921, when I played his Sonata to him. Subsequently, I played this Sonata in the Wigmore Hall in 1929 and also in Berlin in 1931.
I left the Royal Academy of Music in July 1922 and started my five years of composition studies with John Ireland in September of that year.
John Ireland's methods of teaching composition followed those which he had himself undergone twenty years before as a student of Charles Villiers Stanford at the Royal College of Music. For my first year, I studied the idiom and contrapuntal technique of Palestrina and was introduced to English, Ireland and Scottish folk music. I then proceeded to actual composition, and wrote a Fantasy Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 3, a String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 4, a Quartet for Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello, Op. 5, songs, a Symphonic Impression for Orchestra, Op. 8, and lastly, a Prelude and Fugue for Piano, Op.9.
John Ireland was an exacting teacher. A student of his had to produce work of consistently high quality, though voluminous quantity was not expected. During my period with him I was also appearing as a concert pianist. In 1928, I went abroad to study with Artur Schnabel, and, entering Berlin University, I studied the elements of philosophy and musicology systematically. I returned to Great Britain in 1931 and continued to see John Ireland quite frequently.
In 1936, he was invited by the B.B.C. to compose a work which was to celebrate the accession to the throne of King George VI. As there was little time, he asked me to do the orchestration for him. He would indicate the instrumentation he had in mind. This work I did and he dedicated the piece to me. It is the choral work, These Things Shall Be.
In assessing his contribution to musical art in Great Britain, one should remember that except for some compositions by Elgar, such as the Violin Concerto and the first part of The Dream of Gerontius, the general level of professional musical life was poor. Yet in John Ireland's contributions to music are to be found his thirty-nine solo piano works and his sixty-eight songs for voice and piano, which are musical works of such quantity and quality that he was unrivalled in both these genres during the first half of the 20th century by any British composer and by very few composers of any nationality during this period.
In his mature works, the basis is an English melodic style, absorbed during his study with Stanford. At first he combined this with a harmonic vocabulary, derived either from 19th century Germany chromaticism or from French 20th century Impressionism; but later his harmony was developed in an English idiom, personal to himself, which overcame the eclecticism which colours his earlier mature works.
© 2001 Alan Bush Music Trust