The Fairy Queen

As I have been practicing the Fairy Queen for tomorrow’s concert, and I have the Downhill harp here this week, I thought I would do a quick Youtube of it as a record of where I am at the moment.

I am enjoying the growly, pungent voice of this harp – it is perfect for this baroque Irish music!

I am working from the piano arrangement printed by Edward Bunting in his 1796 book. He later notes that this version was collected from the playing of  Arthur O’Neill. I am very interested in trying to reverse-engineer Bunting’s piano arrangment decisions, to see if I can work out which bits of the arrangement he has made up at the piano, and which bits are genuine attempts to capture Arthur O’Neill’s bass and harmony.

There are a number of traditions connected to this tune; it is said to be not an original Carolan composition, but adapted by him from an older air. It seems to me that Carolan might have been responsible for the arrangement and for the outrageous variation with its staccato start and dramatic turns on the harp.

It is really quite hard to play – it is very intense to keep control of the harp and the arrangement, but it is all over in just 3 minutes! A big difference from the grand ceòl mór variation sets I usually concentrate on!

You can read my page detailing all of the early sources for the tune.

I am most intruiged by the possible connections between this tune and the Carolan song lyric, Imreas mór a harla eidir na righthibh, also called an tSí Bheag is an tSí Mhór, or the Fairy Queen(s). I am going to attempt to present a partly-translated version of this song alongside the instrumental tune tomorrow – we’ll see how that works out!

Bunting 1796 Fairy Queen reprint

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