Tag Archives: baroque

Lament for the Union concert

Next Wednesday, I will present a topical concert of tunes from three hundred years ago when the Act of Union was signed between England and Scotland.

The concert is on Wednesday 3rd September, at 12.45pm, in All Saints Church Hall on North Castle Street in St Andrews, and is titled “Hot political tunes from three hundred years ago”.

I will present tunes from my new EP-CD Lament for the Union – thoughtful musical pieces which were composed or played in the years around 1707. They reflect contemporaries’ feelings on the newly signed act of union, and express a wide range of emotions felt by people at the time, from sorrow, to anger, to excitement, to cheeky practical joking.

For this concert, I plan to use my reproduction of the baroque Irish “Downhill” harp made in 1702.

Gilding

I have long admired the inscription on the front of the Downhill harp: CODEVLIN. I assume C. O’Devlin was the person who originally commissioned the instrument from the maker, Cormac O’Kelly, in 1702.

I think it is a great idea for a harper to have their name or coat of arms displayed proudly on the outside of the forepillar of their harp. Other examples I can think of are the coats of arms and initials of Sir John Fitzedmond Fitzgerald on the Cloyne harp, of Robert FitzGerald on the Kildare harp, and the arms of William Archdeacon on the harp in his portrait. There is also Richard Stavan, I think, named on Charles Byrne’s harp in his portrait. Other old instruments announce their owner’s name alongside their maker’s, such as Rev. Charles Bunworth on the Bunworth harp, and of course the graduates of the 19th century harp society schools had their name written on their presentation instruments, either on a brass plate or in gilt lettering like on Paul Smith’s, now in Collins Barracks.

But the Downhill harp is perhaps the boldest, with the name inscribed in big display capitals, slightly wobbly but in very classical style, right on the front where it is most visible.

I have also long been thinking about how plain my Student Downhill harp looks, when I use it occasionally for concerts or events. David Kortier has a very clean aesthetic, and his choice of timbers for their visual and acoustic beauty is excellent, but I have more of an antique taste and love decorated and carved things. I have in the past considered painting the whole thing blue or some other such plan, but I can’t bring myself to cover the subtle curl in the timber, which I am sure Kortier selected for me especially.

So I decided instead that a homage to C O’Devlin was the best way forward. I looked at the elegant ligatures on Cormac O’Kelly’s lettering on the side of the Downhill harp, and I secretly regretted that my name does not have an N in it to reverse. I laid out what I thought was a pleasing design. After a careful trial piece in an offcut of the same wood that my harp was made from (thoughtfully provided by Kortier when the harp was new), I carved the lettering into the forepillar. After sealing the cut edges with shellac varnish, size was carefully applied, followed by loose gold leaf. This is the first time I have ever tried gilding, or carved lettering, and I am very pleased with the result.

First public outing tomorrow at my garden concert. I am nervously watching the weather forecast…

Botanic Baroque

On Saturday evening I will be at the botanic gardens here in St Andrews for an outside evening concert. I’ll have my 18th century Irish harp with me and will be playing a programme of “Carolan, Connellan & Lyons”.

The Downhill harp is loud and strident enough to work in an outdoors setting, and I am hoping that the elegant and sweet tunes from these three composers will complement the summer evening picnic ambience on the lawn of the gardens.

I am interested in these three composers as the finest exponents of the “Irish baroque”, a kind of fusion of the old native styles with the fashionable Italianate music that swept into Scotland and Ireland in the years around 1700.

In Ireland it was the harpers who embraced this new fashion, and Carolan and Lyons were right in there composing Italianate tunes or variation sets in full-on continental style, though always viewed through the prism of the old Gaelic performance traditions on the early Gaelic harp. Connellan, being that bit earlier, worked in a more traditional way though he can perhaps be seen as one of the earliest to compose the big 18th century irish “sean-nos” songs.

In Scotland, the few harpers that remained by 1700 did not engage with this Italian music fashion, and it was the fiddlers who were the most enthusiastic in developing the Scottish baroque style. James Oswald is perhaps the best known and most prolific, and I am using his delightful setting on one of Lyons’s tunes. Lyons called it “Miss Hamilton” after one of his patrons, but Oswald calls it “The blossom of the rasberry” which wonderfully fits our Botanic Garden theme. There is a lovely variation in Oswald’s set which may have come from Lyons but really sounds more like Oswald’s work.

Here are the full details.

Early Music VSI

This small slim paperback of 130 pages is part of Oxford University Press’s “Very Short Introduction” series. I have been collecting these for many years, and I have found them to be highly variable. Some are just a little dull; some are rather biased, postmodern, or narrow; but some are just brilliant. This newly published work by Thomas Forest Kelly, published this month, is one of the brilliant ones. I would highly recommend it and to that end I have already listed it for sale in my Emporium:
http://www.earlygaelicharp.info/emporium/books/kelly.htm

It is a superb pocket size introduction to the idea of “early music”. The first chapter considers the basic ideas, investigating peoples constant urge to look to the past for their art. Three subsequent chapters comprise the heart of the book, dealing respectively with the history of mainstream Western music in the medieval, Renaissance and baroque periods. These three chapters so easily and concisely explain the styles and types of music in each different historical time, that they are highly recommended as the best overview and introduction to this difficult subject. This is followed by one chapter discussing performance practice and ideas of authenticity, and a final chapter (which reads more like an appendix) listing notable individuals and organisations involved with early music during the 20th century in Europe and America.

I have long been searching for an accessible overview history of western music, and this one finally fits the bill. Coincidentally, Cambridge University Press have recently published a “Companion to Medieval Music” which is not very short, and naturally not concerned with Renaissance or baroque music.
http://www.earlygaelicharp.info/emporium/books/cc.htm

Both of these titles will be included in July’s Emporium update – but you get a sneak preview here first!