The secret life of an English pastoralist

'In filleting out these lines from Machen's prose, Ireland gestures towards what, as a gay man, he was forced to conceal: the ecstasy of physical love. He would often allude to his (male, younger) lovers by citations from classical literature or Housman's A Grecian Lad, one of several poet's works that Ireland set to music. He kept a statuette of Pan as a goat-god on his piano, a reminder of the pagan association with rapacious lust. The Forgotten Rite (1913), conjutes up Pan mischievously disrupting a solemn churchy atmosphere. 'I am far from repelled by an admixture of the occult and magic, of a genuine kind,' he wrote to one correspondent in typically understated style.'
That passage from Rob Young's indispensable Electric Eden sheds a different light on John Ireland, a composer usually damned by the faint praise of "English pastoralist". Arthur Machen was a Welsh author and mystic whose novella The Great God Pan is considered a classic of horror writing. Several of Ireland's works are dedicated to Machen including one of his best known, the Legend for piano and orchestra. Like Yeats, Aleister Crowley and Elgar's librettist Algernon Blackwood, Machen was a member of the secret occultist Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

The reference to the statuette of the goat-god Pan on Ireland's piano takes us down an intriguing path that travels across time as well as continents and cultures. In the early twentieth century the eminent Finnish sociologist Edvard Westermarck suggested that the wild music of the Master Musicians that accompanies the erotic dance of the goat-man Bou-Jeloud at Jajouka in Morocco's Rif Mountains has its roots in ancient Greek Dionysian rituals. This led Rolling Stone Brian Jones to title the classic album he produced with the Master Musicians in 1968 The Pipes of Pan at Jajouka. Which means there is a direct path which starts 5000 years ago at the site of a fertility ritual in Greece. First it leads west from Greece to the mystical and some say homoerotic trance ceremony at Jajouka in Morocco's Rif mountains. Then it heads north across Europe to a converted windmill overlooking the reputed site of a witches coven on the Sussex Downs, where John Ireland spent his last days and died in 1962. Finally it reaches its destination at the house in Hartfield where Brian Jones drowned in 1969 after taking a cocktail of drugs and drink. Pan the goat-god is omnipresent, and by a strange, or perhaps not so strange, coincidence the houses where John Ireland and Brian Jones died within seven years of each other are just twenty-five miles apart.

Dutton have recently released a new transfer of Eileen Joyce playing John Ireland's Piano Concerto coupled with EJ Moeran's Symphony in G minor. Walter Legge, no less, was the producer of the sessions at which Leslie Heward conducted the Hallé Orchestra in the Houldsworth Hall Manchester in 1942. Heward succeeded Adrian Boult as conductor of the then City of Birmingham Orchestra in 1930 and seemed set for a permanent post at the Hallé, where he would have preempted the appointment of John Barbirolli. But ill-health culminating in tuberculosis intervened and the sessions for the Moeran Symphony in November and December 1942, at which the composer was present, were Heward's last and he died in May the following year aged just 45.

Artistic standards on the new CD are everything you would expect from a Walter Legge production, while Michael Dutton's remastering is, as usual, sonically impeccable. Leslie Heward's composer endorsed interpretation of the Moeran Symphony is widely regarded as definitive while Eileen Joyce's advocacy of John Ireland's sadly neglected Piano Concerto is totally winning. If that is not enough Leslie Heward Conducts retails for £6.

* Walter Legge's Gramophone tribute to Leslie Heward is essential reading. There is a path to the Moeran Symphony here and to the Master Musicians of Jajouka here.

Leslie Heward Conducts was bought at Prelude Records and Electric Eden was borrowed from Norwich Library. Header image credit to Boydell & Brewer's John Ireland Companion. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk Also on Facebook and Twitter.


Pliable said…
Dutton have also just released a new recording of Moerans sketches for his Symphony No.2 in E flat which have been realised and completed by Martin Yates.

I am not a great fan of these kind of realisations/completions but will keep an open mind until I have a chance to hear this new release.

The coupling is Martin Yates orchestration of John Ireland's Sarnia: an island sequence for orchestra.
Philip Amos said…
Some of your readers, Bob, may also be interested in the London Philharmonic's LPO-0041, the recording of Ireland's 70th birthday concert on Sept. 10, 1949: Adrian Boult conducting, Eileen Joyce playing the piano concerto, and for the rest of the programme, A London Overture, The Forgotten Rite, and These Things Shall Be. I think this was actually included in the Proms season of that year, now in the Albert Hall, of course. It was in the Queen's Hall in 1936 that Artur Rubinstein made his Proms debut playing Ireland's concerto.

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