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In memoriam (originally and aptly called by the composer An Irish Elegy) was initially written as a sextet for string quartet, cor anglais and harp—instrumentation that shows Bax’s skill in evoking the special melancholic tone-quality of the cor anglais combined with the sound of the harp. This is the version in which the work received its first private performance, at the Plough Club in London, on 10 March 1918, followed by a public premiere the following February. For many years it was thought that Bax had not orchestrated it. The manuscript short-score is dated 9 August 1916, but the full orchestration was not completed until later that year, after he finished The Garden of Fand (an Irish heroine).
A short introduction, with the oboe prominent, merges into a broad melody that Bax used again later in his music for David Lean’s film Oliver Twist (1948) in a scene for Mr Brownlow. The oboe launches an extended development section containing march rhythms, bugle calls and side-drum rhythms, culminating in a remarkable passage for stopped horns and a solo violin. The coda finds a different melodic way of expressing a deep but non-sentimental grief.
from notes by Michael Kennedy © 2014