John Ireland

Fantasy-Sonata, for clarinet & piano in E flat major

    Description by James Manheim

    Composed in 1943 and first performed in February 1944, Ireland's Fantasy-Sonata for clarinet and piano was one of his last major works. The chamber music medium often displays the music of this conservative yet individualistic English composer to best advantage, and the Fantasy-Sonata, like much of Ireland's music, is both lyrical and densely concise. As was that of Benjamin Britten, Ireland's music was sometimes loaded with references intended for a small circle of friends; commentator Fiona Richards has identified links between the Fantasy-Sonata and the orchestral Satyricon overture of 1946, and has suggested that the work contains allusions to Ireland's attraction to younger men. ("I should like to call it 'The Song of Gito -- the boy in the Satyricon -- but, of course, I dare not," Ireland wrote in a letter. The Satyricon was a long comic poem from the court of the Roman emperor Nero that depicted a homosexual love triangle.) Clearer to the average listener, however, are the work's origins in the midst of World War II. Ireland was forced to flee the island of Jersey at the beginning of the war as German troops approached, abandoning a pastoral idyll that had often served to inspire him compositionally. The Fantasy-Sonata, about 15 minutes long, falls into three distinct sections corresponding roughly to the movements of a Classical sonata. The final section, rather than resolving musical questions, turns dark and pounding, with sharp, unsettling accents in the clarinet part; the music up to that point has been calm and reflective with Ireland's usual admirable mix of Brahmsian motivic concision and impressionistic scene-painting over long piano ostinatos. Ireland wrote the work for a specific clarinetist, Frederick Thurston, and the clarinet writing is idiomatic and attractive. It's a fine recital work that will give attendees something to chew on.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 EMEC (Editorial de Musica Espanola) EMEC 119
    2013 Cala CACD 77015
    2012 Chandos CHAN 10704
    2011 Dux Records DUX 0798
    2008 Chandos 241-40
    2007 Lyrita 2271
    2003 Symposium 1259
    1999 Clarinet Classics 25
    1995 Chandos 9377
    1995 Herald Records 152
    1994 ASV 891
    1992 Chandos 8549
    Continuum 1038