I was discussing Burns’s March with one of my students, saying how it was the most important model for old Gaelic harp (Irish harp, clarsach) technique and style. They said that there was a need for written-out versions fully marked up with fingering and damping.
Looking through the books from the Jimmy Shand Collection in Dundee library for a tune to play on Saturday week at the free community concert in Dundee, I noticed “Carlione a Favourite Irish Tune” in Neil Gow’s third collection (1792). It is Dr John Stafford, or Carolan’s Receipt (no. 161 in Donal O’Sullivan’s index).
Whether or not I’lI get it up and running to play in two weeks time, it got me thinking about tunes titled with strange variants of Carolan’s name.
For my 10-minute set in next Friday’s 1817 bicentenary concert, I have been thinking about what tunes to play, and how to approach them.
Edward Bunting‘s first field notebook, which he used to take down live transcriptions from the old harpers in 1792 and later, is kept at Queens University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4/29.
Usually known as ms29, it is a small oblong notebook stuffed full of sketchy drafts and scribbled transcriptions from the playing of the last tradition bearers.
On page 1 of the book is a two-staff arrangement of “The Banks of Claudy”.
Speaking on 10th July, 1849, the Irish harper Patrick Byrne explained to the antiquarian John Bell, the system for tuning the early Irish harp. After starting at na comhluighe, and using a cycle of 5ths to set the middle octave of the harp, he says
Then you sound the G on the violin & B & D, and the octave above which is G which makes a common chord
My idea is that this grand geometrical composition can stand as a kind of proxy for the lost medieval Gaelic harp repertory, which would have been played on the Queen Mary harp in the great hall at Finlaggan in the 15th Century for the Lords of the Isles.
I am listening to last night’s BBC broadcast of The Well-Tuned Piano by La Monte Young. This fascinating five hour performance has prompted many thoughts and half-baked ideas on the nature of this kind of music.