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Recollections of Ireland, Op 69
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The Fantasia Recollections of Ireland, Op 69, was written shortly after Moscheles’ three-week visit to the country in January 1826. He describes the prolonged and terrible crossing from Holyhead to Dublin in an intensely graphic passage from his diary – in the howling storm, as sea-water hissed into his cabin, he put his faith in an Almighty Providence and thought calmly of his sleeping wife and baby – ‘they will either see me again and rejoice, or bear my loss with the help of God’. His profound gratitude for a safe arrival, and his consistently enthusiastic welcome, seem to have lent a special warmth and ebullience to this work. As his appearances there generally concluded with an improvised ‘Fantasia on Irish melodies’, this published piece is no doubt a development and distillation of some of the best ideas that came to him on those occasions.

He gave the first performance in London on 7 April 1826. He also agreed to play it on 18 May at the singer Braham’s benefit concert in Covent Garden Theatre, but the performance turned out to be a highly unusual one. The first half consisted of popular songs to please the gallery, who then became so boisterous that they would not listen at all to a more serious second half. Weber conducted his overture ‘Ruler of the Spirits’ amid such a cacophony that not a note could be heard. Moscheles sat down to play boiling with indignation. ‘At the opening bar, the roughs in the gallery made themselves heard by whistling, hissing, shouting and calling out “Are you comfortable, Jack?”, accompanying the question with volleys of orange peel. In this new and unexpected situation I resolved not to come to any sudden stoppage, but to show the better part of my audience that I was ready to fulfil my engagement. I stooped down to the leading violinist and said “I shall continue to move my hands on the keyboard as though really playing. Make your band pretend to be playing also; after a short time I will give you a signal and we will leave off together.”’ As they ‘finished’ there was a hurricane of applause – ‘The gallery were glad to get rid of me!’

According to the expected norm for such fantasias, there is a stately orchestral opening where coming melodies are lightly hinted at. The piano then enters in concerto manner, with alternately vigorous and expressive, and finally virtuosic development of the same material, with echoes of a well-known tune hovering ever closer to the conscious ear. After a Beethovenian double-trill climax, the piano emerges sweetly with the famous ‘Groves of Blarney’, probably better known today as ‘The Last Rose of Summer’. The tasteful ornamentation is well suited to the tune’s simple pathos. But it is repeated in a totally different guise of softly rippling arpeggios, and this new mood continues rising and falling until resolving into an allegretto whose descending octaves soon turn into the cheerful and debonair Redcoat tune ‘Garry Owen’. As the piano discovers ever more inventive variants, the pace lightly and imperceptibly quickens, until we reach the last of the three melodies, the lovely and warm-hearted ‘St Patrick’s Day’. But Moscheles cannot resist the pleasure of combining these two tunes – as the bassoon repeats ‘St Patrick’s Day’, ‘Garry Owen’ re-enters above it. Could this interweaving of the Redcoat march with ‘St Patrick’s Day’ represent the aspiration of the intensely peace-loving Moscheles for the two disparate elements of the Irish nation to live united in harmony? Finally ‘The Groves of Blarney’ returns embroidered with both the other tunes in a sort of miniature Ivesian soundscape, and the music drives joyfully to a traditionally ebullient conclusion.

from notes by Henry Roche © 2005

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