O'Neill - Waifs and Strays of Gaelic Melody, Volume 1, Issue 1, Page 5

O'Neill - Waifs and Strays of Gaelic Melody, Volume 1, Issue 1, Page 5


periodical Publisher
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O'Neill, Capt. Francis
periodical Title
O'Neill - Waifs and Strays of Gaelic Melody
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The folk music of Ireland, admittedly richer andmore varied than that of any nation, has not only sur-vived the vicissitudes of her tragic history, but has inreality been enriched by countless variants no lesspleasing to modern ears than the original strains fromwhich they were derived.Combined, the Irish and Scotch possess the rich-est musical inheritance in the world, and so uninter-rupted was the intercourse of ivandering minstrels be-tween the sister kingdomsso similar the style oftheir melodiesthat no inconsiderable portion of ourfinest airs became a sort of disputed property claimedby both peoples.No stroke of art their texture bears,No cadence wrought with learned skill,And though long worn by rolling years,Yet unimpaired they please us still;While thousand strains of mystic loreHave perished, and are heard no more.Quoting from a recent issue of Musical America:We start at the folk song, and find in it beautiescharacteristic of the people who produced it. In ourcrowded life today there is not much attention paidto it, except by composers in search of material, byartists looking for something novel to exploit, by organizations anxious to see it preserved.The great composers have gained inspirationfrom the music of their folkfrom melodies createdanonymously, or by some whose names do not figureimpressively in history, but whose simple, beautifulsongs have outlived the passing of generations.Haydn says it is the melody which is the charmof music; it is also that which is the most difficult toproduce; the invention of a fine melody is a work ofgenius. Whether it be love or valor, tears or smiles,Irish melody is the inspiring source of all emotionsof home, country and faith.The folk song, passing from father to son, travelsfar before taking formal shape. It niay disappear andcrop out in varied form in some other locality, owingto faulty memorizing or difference in vocal or musicalability. Folk music or traditional music is subject tomany alterations and the formative influence of manyminds. What is beautiful or best remains.When and by whom the more ancient melodies ofIreland were composed, or how long they have beenpassed on from one generation to another, are ques-tions not easily answered at this late day, in the ab-sence of positive historical evidence. Perhaps nothingillustrates this more convincingly than the notationAuthor and date unknown which follows the namesof 122 of the 149 airs in Buntings third collection,published in 1840, although 48 of them had been ob-tained in the last decade of the 18th century.The late Dr. Joyce, a qualified authority, aftermaking due allowance for duplications and overlap-ping in the scores of collections of Irish music pub-lished down to his day, and including his own, esti-mated that approximately 3,100 different airs and tuneswere recorded in print, and that probably 2,000 morecould be sifted from private manuscript collections,and from old people whose memories were stored withstrains learned in early life.A bewildering array of variants and versionsgreets the musical antiquary on every hand, but thequest for new or distinctly different tunes is certainto involve the assiduous winnowing of much musicalchaff.It is now nearly two centuries since the firstprinted collection of Irish melodies came from thepress. In the year 1726 John and William Neale ofDublin published A Book of Irish Tunes, and A Col-lection of Irish and Scotch Tunes, but it must not beforgotten that Playfords The English DancingMaster, published from 1651 to 1725, included not afew primitive Irish tunes.In those days printed music, even if available,could be of little use to the majority of professionalIrish musicians, whether harpers, pipers, or fiddlers,who, having lost their sight by the ravages of smallpox befdre the days of vaccination, had no choicebut that of music as a vocation.Under such circumstances it is obvious that im-perfect memorizing of tunes acquired from oral in-struction, or picked up promiscuously from the liltingor playing of others, accounts in part at least for thewealth of variants of well known airs and tunes trace-able to a common origin, and the farther back theyare traced the simpler and more skeletonic we findthem. Skilful instrumentalists have in process oftime embellished the framework or theme with an em-broidery of graces and varied f&nishes, which go farto relieve the monotony of melodies ordinarily con-sisting of but eight bars in each part, and in someinstances only four bars repeated.The charm of dance music does not end with therhythmic requirements of the dancer, for althoughjigs, reels, and hornpipes, were primarily composedto be accompanied by dancing, they have been inmany instances wedded to song. By no means feware the examples known to us, which, played in slowtime, are susceptible of much expression and beauty.Perceval Graves Father OFlynn, set to the tune ofThe Top of Cork Road, is a conspicuous example.The psychologist may understand why the rhythmor swing of an Irish or Scotch reel, or other Gaelicdance tune, so vitally affects the average audience,which listens unmoved to the strains of much morepretentious compositions. Melody is truly the soulof music, remarked Sir John Graham Daizell in 1781.I have been twice present at convivial entertainmentswhen the best compositions by the most celebratedperformers were heard without emotion. Yet themoment an excellent, lively and inspiring tune Mrs.McLeod of Raasays reelcommenced, a party ofdancers started up to enjoy it; nor was this a novelty Nor are such incidents a novelty today.Although no less than thirty collections of Irishmusic, whole or in part, were published in the threekingdoms in the 18th century, comparatively fewdance tunes are to be found among their contents.Several collections of Scots Reels or Country Danceswere issued in parts by Robert Bremner in Edinburghfrom 1757 to 1768. Neil Stewart, John Riddle, DanielDow and at least a dozen others followed his examplebefore the end of the century. In all of them are tobe found certain tunes in common circulation in Ire-land.FjINTRODUCTION(WTaifs and Strays- +--:oc Gaelic Melody):i w =La
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