These Things Shall Be - John Ireland (1879 - 1962)


A Setting for Baritone Solo, Chorus and Orchestra


John Ireland was born in Cheshire into a family with strong literary interests and he grew up with a love of English poetry. Some of his finest compositions, such as his setting of Masefield’s Sea Fever, reflect this background. 

Ireland was one of a remarkable generation of composers to emerge from the newly-established Royal College of Music at the end of the nineteenth century. (Others included Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst and Frank Bridge.) His style is  sometimes characterised as ‘English impressionism’ but it shows the influence of Stravinsky as well as Debussy. Elgar too is often in the background.  

Before he became a professor of composition at the Royal College, Ireland spent some years as a church organist and choirmaster. One of his best-loved pieces is his motet ‘Greater Love hath No Man’.


The cantata ‘These things shall be’ is, however, his only substantial choral work. It resulted from a commission by the BBC in 1937 for a contribution to its Coronation Concert. It had its first performances― both broadcast and live―in that year, both under the baton of the then little-known Adrian Boult.  It was an immediate success.


Ireland drew on his knowledge of Victorian poetry in his decision to set eight verses from ‘A Vista’ by John Addington Symonds (1840-93). ‘A Vista’ offered a utopian vision of a future in which free people would live peaceably with one another and use science to ‘plant man’s lordship firm’ on nature. Ireland thought the words of the poem were ‘an expression of British national feeling at the time’. Five verses from ‘A Vista’ had indeed been made into a hymn and included in the 1931 edition of Songs of Praise―it proved to be particularly popular in schools.


National feeling was, of course, soon to change with the advent of the Second World War. The words of the poem came to be seen as naďve at best and even as unchristian. It was dropped from the hymn books. But we do not need to share the poet’s vision of the human future to be moved by Ireland’s music.

The orchestral introduction features a dramatic four-note ‘fate’ motif―the same rhythm as the ‘fate’ motif that opens Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony only here the fourth note goes up as at the end of a question. A variant on the ‘fate’ motif is underlaid by the words of the choir in the first verse, when they sing: ‘what will the future bring?’

A longer orchestral interlude prepares the way for the next verse in which the choir declare the poet’s vision of the future:

These things shall be! A loftier race

Than e’er the world hath known, shall rise

With flame of freedom in their souls

And light of science in their eyes.

The second verse, which continues with only a short interlude from the orchestra, introduces the pacifist dimension of the poet’s vision.

The next four verses are grouped together. One is largely given to the soloist and another to the sopranos and altos. There follow verses for full choir, the second providing a musical climax in which there are some wonderful harmonies:


New arts shall bloom of loftier mould,

And mightier music thrill the skies,

When every life a song shall be

When all the earth is paradise.

Before the last verse the composer has the choir entertain a brief moment of doubt, reminding the listener of the four-note ‘fate’ motif that was so prominent at the beginning.  But the doubt is emphatically dispelled in the last verse and the work concludes on a calmly mystical note.


 Notes by

Stuart Brown


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