John Ireland: The Holy Boy
John Ireland’s The Holy Boy has seen a huge transformation over the course of 30 years. The original version dates back from December 1913, and was part of Ireland’s Preludes for Piano. It was composed when Ireland was the organist at St Luke’s Church, Chelsea. By 1941, The Holy Boy was scored for string orchestra and a number of solo versions also came before this. In the present day, one can find a whole range of arrangements of this tune, including for choir and orchestra, brass band and string quartet.
For this blog I will be referring to the string orchestra version of The Holy Boy. The seemingly simple tune is masked by a complex structure for the orchestra. Opening with a pulsating theme, the upper strings take hold of the classic tune. The tune is wistful and hopeful, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere for the listener to enter. This is perhaps the main reason is has remained Ireland’s most popular work with audiences. The nuanced changes in harmony add sparkle to the music, as Ireland takes us on a tantalising journey through the English landscape. After a final reference to the theme, the piece concludes quietly, in true Ireland style.
Ⓒ Alex Burns