John Nicholson Ireland (circa 1920).
From a 2010 interview with the English pianist Alan Rowlands, in The John Ireland Companion, edited by Lewis Foreman (Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 2011).
When it came to In a May Morning he said, ‘Play it as if you were looking at something so beautiful you could hardly bear it.’ I did my best to conjure up a picture of the loveliness of Nature in May, not realising at that stage that one of the objects of beauty which had so inspired him was the young boy Michael Rayson, to whom it is dedicated. Michael was the son of the proprietors of the Birnam Court Hotel in Guernsey where Ireland was staying at the time, and was described by him, in a letter to Kenneth Thompson, as being ‘beautiful ... with long curling eyelashes’. I now feel, following Fiona Richards, that this piece is almost a love-song, and don’t think it is any coincidence that the opening so closely resembles Drink to me only with thine eyes and that the middle section has something in common with the music of the dancing children in Legend:
INTERVIEWER Do you think of some of Ireland’s music as paederastic?
ALAN ROWLANDS Well, it is not the word I would have chosen. But it is obvious that his attraction towards boys played an enormous part in his inspiration, possibly even more than in the case of Britten. He originally wanted to call the middle movement of Sarnia ‘Boyslove’ and the Fantasy Sonata for clarinet and piano Ode to Giton (the boy in the Satyricon). He was deeply moved by Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, which he read in the 1930s. As Kenneth Thompson, his closest friend and confidante in these matters, wrote to Colin Scott-Sutherland, ‘John was a romantic Invert ... and an innocent lover of boys (again I emphasise innocent).’ I think that’s all that need be said. Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that his friendship with the choirboy Arthur Miller continued into the boy’s adult years and became perhaps the most inspirational relationship in the composer’s life.
May Morning on Magdalen Tower
(1890) by William Holman Hunt. Oil on canvas, 154.5 × 200 cm (Port Sunlight, United Kingdom
: Lady Lever Art Gallery).