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Songs of a wayfarer

circa 1903/5

The early cycle Songs of a Wayfarer (cl903/5) hints at the extent to which a love of literature was deeply rooted in Ireland from childhood years—each of the five songs features a different poet. The cycle is dedicated 'To my friend, Robert Radford', the English bass who came to prominence in the first decade of this Century through such exploits as singing Wagner's 'Ring' cycle under Hans Richter in 1908.

If the musical language of the cycle is not yet highly individual, the mood is already personal. As the title suggests, this is largely music reflecting a kinship with the great outdoors, although a young man's languor after love steals into English May and, more emphatically, into the hypnotic I was not sorrowful, a song whose chromaticism and emotional centre of gravity hints at the more mature Ireland.

The cycle's texts feature poets both well- and (now) lesser-known. The innocently pastoral Memory—a nostalgic journey via the mind's eye to remembered scenes—sets the familiar poem by William Blake. The words for When daffodils begin to peer come from Act IV Scene II of Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale. The rhythmic complexity of Ireland's setting vividly heightens the sense of ecstasy at the arrival of spring. English May is by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the Pre-Raphaelite painter and poet to whom Ireland returned regularly for inspiration. The opening line, 'Were God your health were as this month of May' refers directly to the chronic illnesss of Rossetti's mistress (and model for so many of his paintings), Elizabeth Siddal. Rossetti married her in 1860, two years before she died from an overdose of laudanum.

The atmospheric, other-worldly I was not sorrowful uses words by Ernest Dowson, the English Symbolist poet who died in 1900 at the age of thirty-three. Described by W B Yeats as 'timid, silent, a little melancholy', Dowson became infatuated in 1891 with the twelve-year-old Adelaide Foltinowicz, who became the focus of love and innocence in his often world-weary poetry.

The cycle closes in bracing, swaggering fashion with I will walk on the earth—a no-holdsbarred paean of praise to the outdoor life, with words by another Blake—James Vila Blake. The use of his poetry is perhaps one index for the scope of Ireland's reading. Blake seems all but forgotten now, and only from an obscure 1908 Chicago publication (in the possession of the John Ireland Trust) comes the intriguing assessment of him as 'poet, preacher, theologian, litteratur … a master-mind in sweep of prophetic vision'. Sic transit gloria mundi.

from notes by Andrew Green © 1999


Ireland: Songs
CDA67261/22CDs Last few CD copies remaining
Songs to Shakespeare
CDA66480Archive Service


No 1: Memory
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Track 1 on CDA67261/2 CD2 [1'58] 2CDs Last few CD copies remaining
No 2: When daffodils begin to peer
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A Winter's Tale IV:2

Track 20 on CDA66480 [3'11] Archive Service
Track 2 on CDA67261/2 CD2 [2'06] 2CDs Last few CD copies remaining
No 3: English May
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Track 3 on CDA67261/2 CD2 [2'47] 2CDs Last few CD copies remaining
No 4: I was not sorrowful 'Spleen'
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Track 4 on CDA67261/2 CD2 [3'17] 2CDs Last few CD copies remaining
No 5: I will walk on the earth
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Track 5 on CDA67261/2 CD2 [1'28] 2CDs Last few CD copies remaining

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