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Songs Sacred and Profane


The Songs Sacred and Profane, written over two years on either side of 1930, principally showcase two female poets: Alice Meynell {The Advent and My Fair) and Sylvia Townsend Warner {Hymn for a Child, The Soldier's Return and The Scapegoat). Alice Meynell (1847-1922) was also an essayist and critic. A convert to Roman Catholicism in 1868, she gained a special reputation for the poetry she wrote reflecting a sense of religious mystery. Sylvia Townsend Warner (1893-1978) was the daughter of a master at Harrow School. A novelist as well as a poet, she also joined the editorial board of the Church Music project in 1917 and then spent ten years working on the milestone ten-volume Tudor Church Music publication. In some literary circles her poetry was considered to fit her for the title of the 'female Thomas Hardy'. The one other poem in the set, The Salley Gardens, is by W B Yeats.

Working on this sequence of songs formed a significant element in Ireland's emotional and musical recuperation from the shock of his disastrous marriage. This is no cycle, rather a loose assemblage of songs reflecting aspects of human and religious experience. The Advent expresses the ordinary human side to the extraordinary fact of the incarnation of Christ. Hymn for a Child is a deliciously witty retelling of the Biblical story of the young Jesus confounding the elders in the temple, complete with rhymes so dreadfully droll they are delightful. The song ends with an ironic (child's?) prayer for help in emulating such discreet behaviour as displayed by Jesus, the 'nicely brought up child'. My Fair is a passionate love song, though one which is fully aware of the finite nature of that love. Its complexities are then cleaned off the palate by the beautiful, wistful lines of The Salley Gardens, about a youthful experience of being rejected in love. The Soldier's Return pictures the arrival home to his girl of a soldier—on foot, as the tramping, martial accompaniment would make clear to us even if the words were indecipherable. Lastly, The Scapegoat is a laugh at the expense of 'righteous' men in town snootily pleased with themselves for finding redemption from sin through the services of the goat. But it is the goat (as the skipping, jumping accompaniment makes clear) who really is free. Ireland was the pianist for a performance of this song during a Festival of Britain concert at London's Wigmore Hall in 1951. By all accounts he had the audience belly-laughing at his playing of the accompaniment under the words 'Dances on, and on, and on!'.

from notes by Andrew Green © 1999


Ireland: Songs
CDA67261/22CDs Last few CD copies remaining


No 1: The advent
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Track 1 on CDA67261/2 CD1 [3'06] 2CDs Last few CD copies remaining
No 2: Hymn for a child
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Track 2 on CDA67261/2 CD1 [2'02] 2CDs Last few CD copies remaining
No 3: My fair
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Track 3 on CDA67261/2 CD1 [3'05] 2CDs Last few CD copies remaining
No 4: The salley gardens
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Track 4 on CDA67261/2 CD1 [1'49] 2CDs Last few CD copies remaining
No 5: The soldier's return
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Track 5 on CDA67261/2 CD1 [0'59] 2CDs Last few CD copies remaining
No 6: The scapegoat
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Track 6 on CDA67261/2 CD1 [1'22] 2CDs Last few CD copies remaining

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