Greater Love Hath No Man       John Ireland

Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can the floods drown it

Song of Solomon, Ch 8, v 7

Love is strong as death.

Song of Solomon, Ch 8, v 6

Greater love hath no man than this,
that a man lay down his life for his friends.

St John, Ch 15, v 13

Who, His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, 
that we, being dead to sins should live unto righteousness.

1 Peter, Ch 2, v 24

Ye are washed, ye are sanctified, ye are justified,
in the name of the Lord Jesus;

1 Corinthians, Ch 6, v 11

Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. 
That ye should shew forth the praises of Him
who hath called you out of darkness, into His marvellous light.

1 Peter, Ch 2, v 9

I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, 
hat ye present your bodies, a living sacrifice, 
holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

Romans, Ch 12, v 1

This anthem has a well-defined structure, with free flowing modulations passing through a variety of related and unrelated keys, and frequently changing moods, and tempi. This, and the strong melodic and harmonic writing, are clear influences from the extended canticle settings of Ireland’s teacher, the eminent Charles Villiers Stanford. In the middle section there are brief solos for soprano and baritone. The work, although short, is densely packed with interest, and contrasts strong declamatory passages both with broad, expansive legato phrases, and also with much more tender and introspective word setting. The words are biblical and are assembled from various Old and New Testament sources, including various letters of St Peter and St Paul.

John Ireland’s life was plagued by melancholy, insecurity and feelings of inadequacy. Born in Cheshire in 1879, he was left spiritually homeless by the early death of his parents, and he entered the Royal College of Music as an orphan at the age of 14 to study organ and piano. When the opportunity arose to become a pupil of the revered Stanford in 1897, he switched to composition. Ireland’s living was initially made as an organist and choirmaster in London, first at Holy Trinity, Sloane Square, and later at St Luke’s Chelsea. In 1923, he became a teacher of composition at the RCM. Amongst his pupils was Benjamin Britten, who gave up on Ireland after a year, branding him as “drunk, hung-over or absent” during tutorials. A man of introspection, few friendships, and a disastrous, and eventually annulled, marriage, he did collect a degree from the University of Durham, an FRCO diploma, an honorary doctorate (also from Durham) and honorary degrees from the RAM and the RCM. In 1940, his retirement to the Channel Island of Guernsey was disrupted by German occupation, and he died alone in West Sussex in 1962. Ireland’s output is small but endearing; he destroyed almost all of his early works and student compositions, deeming them not good enough. Nevertheless, it covers a period of more than 50 years, and includes some beautiful settings of English poetry for solo voice, church music, chamber music, orchestral music, a piano concerto, and a colourful film score for The Overlanders. His style has been likened to a form of British Impressionism, based on the French and Russian models of Debussy, Ravel and early Stravinsky, rather than the folk-song-based, more nationalistic style of many of his British contemporaries. Greater Love, for choir and organ, was written in 1912, presumably for the choir of Holy Trinity Sloane Square, where Ireland was in post at the time. He orchestrated it in 1924.