Written for the 1932 National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain and performed that year at Crystal Palace, Ireland's A Downland Suite has become one of his most frequently played works. Ireland later arranged the middle two movements for strings, with his pupil, Geoffrey Bush, completing the job in 1978.
After a strong energetic Prelude comes a lyrical Elegy, often played separately so popular are its wistful tones. Following the familiar Minuet and Trio, Ireland concludes the suite with a quicksilver Rondo finale, its moto perpetuo theme interrupted only by the grandiose return of the Elegy's tune; the work then rushes headlong to its inevitable conclusion.
Born in Bowden, Cheshire, John Ireland entered the Royal College of Music at the age of 14, studying alongside Holst and Vaughan Williams. Although initially there to study piano, his interest in composition grew and in 1897 he began lessons with Charles Villiers Stanford. Upon graduation he earned a living as an organist and choirmaster, gaining stature as a composer until returning to teach at the RCM in 1923, where his pupils included Benjamin Britten. Inspired by the heritage of England, especially its rich pagan mythology, his works were often based on fantastical themes, as was the case with his tone poems The Forgotten Rite (1913) and Legend (1933). Crushingly self-critical (a characteristic worsened by Stanford's harsh manner), he came to regret composing certain works including the cantata These Things shall Be (1937), written for the coronation of George VI. He died in Sussex, amid the rural England he so loved.