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5 Irish Songs : Work information

Arnold (Edward Trevor) Bax ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Graham Johnson (Piano), Ann Murray (Mezzo-soprano)

This work

Work name
5 Irish Songs
Work number
1921-01-01 02:00:00

This recording

Forlane CI
Ivan Pastor
Recording date

The Composers

Arnold (Edward Trevor) Bax

Bax was born in Pendennis Road, Streatham, London, into a Victorian upper-middle-class family of Dutch descent. He grew up in Ivy Back, a mansion on top of Haverstock Hill, Hampstead where he attended Heath Mount School.. In Bax, A Composer and His Times (2007) Lewis Foreman suggests that, because of the family affluence, Bax never had to take a paid position and was free to pursue most of his interests. From an early age, Bax showed that he had a powerful intellect and great musical talent, especially at the keyboard. He often enjoyed playing the Wagner operas on piano. One of his first intimate meetings with art music was through Tristan und Isolde and its influence is seen in many of his later works, Tintagel for example. Bax was taught at home, but received his first formal musical education at age 16 from Cecil Sharp and others at the Hampstead Conservatory. He was accepted to the Royal Academy of Music in 1900 where he remained until 1905. At the Academy, he was taught composition by Frederick Corder, the Piano by Tobias Matthay and the Clarinet by Egerton. In his composition classes, Corder emphasized the examples of Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner and pointed to their liberal approach to classical form, which led Bax to develop a similar attitude. He had an exceptional ability to sight-read and play complex orchestral scores at the piano, which won him several medals at the Academy and he also won prizes for best musical composition, including the Battison-Haynes prize and the competitive Charles Lucas medal.

Track listing

  • I heard a Piper Piping 3:41 min


Though Bax was born in England, he had a lifelong affinity with the Irish people and landscape. He lived in Ireland with his wife for a period before the 1st world war, adopted the pseudonym Dermot O'Byrne, and published poetry, short stories, and plays. The events surrounding Dublin's Easter Rising in 1916 are known to have affected him deeply; he knew several of its leaders who were subsequently executed, and wrote poetry on the subject that was banned by the British censor.

In 1921, Bax composed the music for 5 Irish Songs, setting texts by J. Campbell, P. Colum, and J. M. Synge. Listen out particularly for the haunting lament-like quality of the vocal line in 'I hear a piper piping' and its contrasting raindrop piano accompaniment, sounding more French than English.