Finding Glencree: the music of Ina Boyle

Cara Houghton
Friday, June 24, 2022

The winner of the RPS Young Classical Writers Prize invites us to discover the Irish composer's music

While there are - rightly - many schemes and initiatives to support young musicians, two years ago the Royal Philharmonic Society launched a competition to encourage and support young writers on music. This year's judges were Gramophone Editor Martin Cullingford, and clarinettist, writer and producer Kate Romano, and were 'impressed by the spirit and imagination of the writing, plus the broad and refreshing range of works that young people wanted to tell us about'.

The winner was Cara Houghton, a 24-year-old flute player studying for her Masters degree at the Royal College of Music, who chose to write about the Irish composer Ina Boyle – and we're delighted to publish her winning article below.

 

Ina Boyle.

If you said this name to me last year, I would have responded with ‘sorry, who?’

Ina Boyle: a woman born in 1899 who I only discovered very recently but who has swiftly become a great curiosity in my life. (Seriously, check out my search history and you’ll probably start wondering if I have considered getting out of the house more). I haven’t only become a huge fan of her compositions, but of her as a person too, and each time I come across something new of hers, it enhances the image I have of this increasingly inspiring woman.

It wasn’t a particularly romantic start to our one-sided relationship, I was simply looking for some music by an Irish composer when I stumbled upon one of her songs, which then led to me listening to some of her other compositions. Zoom forward a couple of months and I’ve trawled through the entire Trinity College Dublin Ina Boyle Digital Collection (try saying that in one breath), and listened to her first symphony Glencree enough to make the neighbours think it’s my own personal theme tune – so I’d say I’m somewhere on the way to identifying as a self-proclaimed expert.

Ina Boyle: discover her music (photo: The Tully Potter Collection)

Glencree, a valley in Ireland’s Wicklow mountains, has a beautiful landscape which is depicted through the three movements of this symphony, managing to evoke powerful imagery even for a listener who hasn’t been there before. Completed in 1927, the symphony is in an unusual order, with the inner fast movement surrounded by two slow movements. Whilst this form is non-traditional, it succeeds in creating Boyle’s trademark meditative atmosphere, drawing on modal tonality to elicit a bittersweet feeling of nostalgia.

Considering how many times I have listened to Glencree, it still manages to transport me the same way it did when I first heard it. The opening oboe solo accompanied by misty strings reminds me of the sun rising over trees on a crisp winter morning, where the first light dappling through the branches signals the start of a new day. The entrance of the harp and horns feels like the sun’s rays landing on my face, embracing me with warmth in the otherwise cold, still air. This scene is actually a memory of mine from the Lake District a few years ago where I had intense feelings of peace and contentment, and whilst it isn’t the Glencree that Ina Boyle wrote about, I am confident that her feelings towards her home were the same as mine that day.

Boyle lived in her hometown of Enniskerry, on the fringes of Glencree, for her whole life and unapologetically pursued her musical dreams without the help of studying at a conservatoire or moving to a big city. Whether she was paying to have her music published, or relentlessly sending her scores to competitions and orchestras, she never stopped being her own biggest champion, even when the odds were against her.

Finding Glencree is the happiest discovery I have made in a long time, and I hope that you find this music just as enchanting as I do.

 

Second Prize – £250 – was award to 18-year-old guitarist Luke Horsey from Hertfordshire, for writing about Poulenc’s Cello Sonata; third prize – £100 – went to 24-year-old Kai Konishi-Dukes, currently studying for his doctorate at Oxford, for writing about a late 15th century mass by Josquin. You can read their articles on the RPS website by clicking their names above - or click here to find out more about the prize. 

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