2014-10-26 Notes from the Bench

“Communion Service in C” by John Ireland

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate


The English composer, John Nicholson Ireland (1879-1962) was born in Dowdon, near Altrincham, Manchester, England. He was familiar with the High Church liturgies and the thriving choral tradition of Anglicanism. He was an assistant organist at Holy Trinity Church Sloane Street, London and later organist and choirmaster at St. Luke’s Church, Chelsea. Ireland’s “Communion Service in C” is an early work, written around 1913, and displays the influences of his teacher, Charles Villiers Stanford.



Ireland was born in Dowdon, near Altrincham, Manchester. His family was of Scottish descent with some cultural distinction; his father, Alexander, was a publisher and newspaper proprietor. By the time Ireland was fifteen years old, both of his parents had died; he was described as “a self-critical, introspective man, haunted by memories of a sad childhood.” Ireland was a student at the Royal College of Music where he studied piano and organ, and under the tutelage of Charles Villiers Stanford, composition. From Stanford, he inherited a thorough knowledge of music by German composers including Beethoven and Brahms, but was also influenced by the works of Stravinsky, Bartók, and French Impressionist composers, Debussy and Ravel. Ireland developed his own style of “English Impressionism,” drawing upon the influences of French and Russian music rather than upon English folk-songs which prevailed in the music of his English contemporaries. His works include chamber music, orchestral music, pieces for organ and piano, secular songs, and church music that include hymns (My Song is Love Unknown, Hymnal #458), carols, and service music. He preferred to compose works constructed in smaller forms in the manner of other Impressionist composers. In addition to his work for the Church, Ireland taught at the Royal College of Music. Ireland was a bachelor for most of his life, briefly married to a pupil, Dorothy Phillips, from 1926-1928. They had no children. Ireland retired in 1953, settling in Sussex where he remained for the rest of his life.


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