It-s in the Annals Of the Four Masters , that entry for the year 1498 records the death of a distant ancestor, Floirint O
Corcorain, ” saoi cruitire ” , a master harper.
How many of these eight melodies, or their melodic prototypes, were already in his repertoire ?
I wrote the 8 miniatures for cello and piano in 2016 and 2015. These traditional “sean nos ” melodies have been haunting me since my rural childhood in Tipperary .
I had long been appalled by the settings of old Irish melodies attempted by Beethoven, Haydn, Britten , Harty and
too many other well/meaning composers, by their often saccharine harmonies, their rhythmic iron corset or indeed the foursquare form they too often adopted….
In these 8 settings I have had to respect the fundamentally monodic nature of each song, to take great care of its modal intentions and linear ornamentations and its rock/solid architectural form * normally an arched A B B A structure.
Their rhythm is normally that of the Old Spanish sarabande, a heavy three in the bar (
and how the sarabande came so strongly to impregnate the Irish harpers and the music they played or recited since the 16th. century is anybody-s guess… )
So when I “set” a traditional Irish air the cello has to sing its plaintive song while the piano remains orchestral with its myriad colours and short phrases and echoes and motivs.
SEAN O DUIBHIR AN GHLEANNA I learned with six in my rural Borrisokane school, this Jacobite lament by John O-Dwyer from Aherlow who with the downfall of Catholic King James at the hands of Protestant William of Orange has lost his lands, his everything . Fine nature lyricism in its text >
” On my rising in the golden morning with its resurgent sun I heard the sounds of the hunting horn, the distant guns and an old peasant woman lamenting the loss of her geese. ”
PRIOSUN CLUAIN MEALA, “The Prison Of Clonmel” , another Tipperary tune, dating from the revolution year 1798 is certainly older. Again, the words of its lament / with their almost Mahlerian / Des Knabenwunderhorn
quality are very fine. This young prisoner will be hanged next Friday….
” My Kerry friends, pray for me, your voices are soft to my ear. I never did think that I would never return to ye. Our three heads they-ll place upon spikes to make a grand spectacle . The snows of the night and all harsh weather will bleach us…. ”
In the myxolydic love/song A MHAIRIN DE BARRA
the singer curses his lover, his Mary Barry who has got between him and God.
There are at least two versions of that great Romeo/and/Juliet Co. Roscommon song A UNA BHAIN . Tomas Mac Coisdealbha was drowned in his nightly swimming across lovely Lough Key to visit
his fair Una
” you were a candlabra on the festive table for a queen…. ”
and still today on Trinity Island you can visit the two intertwined trees growing from their two graves.
In the first version, piano harmonics echo the cello-s wild high line. In the second version it is the cello-s primitive pizzicati on the open strings which punctates the piano-s vain attempt to imitate the ululations of Connamara folksinger, legendary Joe Heaney, in those distant fifties of my childhood.
Ever since the film/music of Irish composer, Sean O Riada, in the sixties achieved iconic status, fiery ROISIN DUBH also has become for many the Song of Revolution , indeed almost an Irish “Finlandia” .
Its huge melodic ascent and incandescent leaps strain to express the folk/ poet-s vision : ” The ships are on the ocean deep. There will come wine from the the royal Pope for this
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