Saturday, June 4, 2011

Ireland: Piano Works, Vol. 3

I rarely put my iPod on shuffle in any public setting for fear of the musical eclecticist in me disturbing the desired atmosphere.  When I'm listening by myself though it's a neat experience. A mix of dissimilar genres can give you fresh variety, something welcomed especially while performing any task with tedium. Earlier this week I found myself doing one of those chores: organizing my laundry into piles on the floor.  As always, I did so to a thoroughly-shuffled stream of music. I was energized  by Deep Focus, sang along to some Incubus (hint: track 3).  And then suddenly the mood changed: on came the final scene from Puccini’s La Boheme.  I quickly sat on my bed and concentrated on the music.

... Mimi, the deathly ill soprano, quietly passes away in bed.  Her lover, Rodolfo, runs to her side calling her name, weeping. ...  

I was flooded with mirrored anguish over the loss of a loved one. The brevity of that experience meant I required more musical closure. I knew what I wanted, too:
The Undertone, first of John Ireland’s Piano Preludes.  It was nestled among several other beautiful solo piano works.

With simple melodic beauty, Ireland begins this work with a slowly descending right hand, developing a clear sense of longing for something missed dearly.  Then yearning boils to dissonance - tonal conflicts born from the heart’s overwhelming desire for the impossible.  But warmth exists in Ireland’s piano works: that of pensive memories.
  In the final minute of The Undertone it’s as if remembrance penetrates the sorrow!  After a few fleeting runs in the high register you almost feel like cracking a smile in the corner of your closed lips.  You want it to end like a fairy tale. You crave happiness!  Aha!, you’re longing again and Ireland knows it.  Finally, down we go with the opening melodic line in the final phrase -- down several octaves now -- to the quiet of the final chord.  In the ensuing silence I heard the distant tears of Rodolfo.

Ireland himself did not have much luck in his love life and perhaps he was channelling this misfortune in his music.
  Melancholy, however, was by no means his sole emoting speciality.  On that same Naxos Music CD (linked here) are the fourth prelude Fire of Spring and another work titled Equinox (the later which I hold as close to me as the one in my lietmotif announcement post ) both have a fascination with playful Ravel-like musical properties.  Ravel, among Bartók and Stravinsky, influenced John Ireland immensely.  The other works feature more of the classicistic and impressionistic sides of this talented composer.  It's an absolute treat for the ears!

Before we close, here are the questions I have for you:

What piece of music made you shed tear? What mood was it? Think back to what was going on in your mind at that moment.  Let’s see if anyone can admit it and, if so, I’ll give you mine.  That’s a promise!  I may even turn your suggestions into a theme!

Happy Listening!




  2. I love this piece! There's something extremely touching about it, especially in your analysis. It's very poignant in the realization that perhaps the happiest the protagonist can achieve is the desire for happiness. It's a pretty depressing notion, but at the end of the day seems like an indisputable truth. There's a great amount of value in wanting, in being hopeful, that perhaps makes it even greater than the value of happiness and contentment itself. The piece is clever, really good choice and exceptional insight.