Tag Archives: lay

Fraoch visits Ailill & Medb at Cruachan

[Fraoch] went southwards to his mother’s sister, that is to Boand, in the plain of Bregia; and she gave him fifty black-blue cloaks, whose colour was like the backs of cockchafers, each cloak had four blue ears [or lappets]; and a brooch of red gold to each cloak. She gave him besides fifty splendid white shirts with fastenings of gold; and fifty shields of silver with borders of gold. She gave him a great hard spear, flaming like the candle of a royal house, to place in the hand of each man of his party, and fifty rings of burnished gold upon each spear, all of them set off with carbuncles, and their handles studded with precious stones. They would light up the plain the same as the glittering light of the sun. And she gave him fifty gold-hilted swords, and fifty soft-gray steeds, on which his men sat; all with bridle-bits of gold, with a crescent of gold and bells of silver on the neck of each steed of them. And they had fifty crimson saddles, with pendants of silver thread, and with buckles of gold and silver, and with wonderful fastenings upon them (the steeds); and their riders had fifty horse-switches of Findruine, with a crook of gold upon the head of each horse-switch, in their hands; and they had besides, seven grayhounds in chains of silver, and a ball of gold upon (the chain) between each pair of them. They wore shoes of red bronze (Cred-Uma); and there was no colour which approached them that they did not reflect it. They had seven trumpeters among them, with trumpets of gold and silver, wearing many coloured raiments. Their hair was light golden; and they had splendid white shirts upon them. There were three buffoons preceding the party with silver-gilt coronets upon their heads, and each carried a shield with emblematic carvings upon it; and crested heads, and ribs of red bronze in the centres of these shields; and there were three harpers (cruitire), each with the appearance of a king, both as to his dress, and his arms, and his steed….

[While they were at  Cruachan, Ailill asked Fraoch if the harpers would play after dinner.] This was the condition of these [harps]. There were harp-bags (crotbuilcc) of the skins of otters about them, ornamented with coral, (Partaing) with an ornamentation of gold and of silver over that, lined inside with snow-white roebuck skins; and these again overlaid with black-gray strips [of skin]; and linen cloths, as white as the swan’s coat, wrapped around the strings. Harps (Crota) of gold, and silver, and Findruine, with figures of serpents, and birds, and grayhounds upon them. These figures were made of gold and of silver. Accordingly as the strings vibrated [these figures] ran around the men. They [the harpers] played for them then, until twelve men of Ailill’s and Medb’s household died of crying and emotion.

(taken from Eugene O’Curry’s Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish, vol. 3, pps. 219-222)

Heroic music at the Cathedral

On Tuesday is the last in my summer series of cathedral concerts for this year. I’ll be repeating a programme from last year, of music connected to the heroic legends of Britain and Ireland. The centrepiece of the concert will be a performance of one of the medieval Gaelic lays – the story of Caoilte and the giant with five heads, which I have learned from a 1965 field recording of Kate MacDonald. There are a large number of such recordings of these medieval heroic songs being performed, and I have catalogued a number of them on my website at www.earlygaelicharp.info/lay. As well as lays from the Fenian cycle, as this one is, there are also lays dealing with characters from the Ulster cycle, the Historical cycle, and also from the Arthurian cycle.

All of these lays that survived down to the mid 20th century (I believe only one, Am Bron Binn, is still current in living tradition) survive only as unaccompanied solo song. This is of course very valuable for the study of early Gaelic music because we get a medieval text, a reciting melody, and a performance style. But for a harp concert I wanted to find instrumental music on a similar theme, and not just play instrumental adaptions of the vocal reciting melodies.

So for Tuesday’s concert I cast my net as wide as I can to try and find an interesting selection of genuinely instrumental music which somehow connects to this heroic theme. Come along to the cathedral at 12.45 and see what you think!

September’s Cathedral recital

Tristan being sent into exile, from a medieval German woodcut

On Tuesday 7th September at 12.45pm, early harp specialist Simon Chadwick will be playing historical Scottish and Irish music in the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral.

Using his decorated replica of the medieval Scottish ‘Queen Mary’ harp with gold and silver wire strings, Simon will play a selection of music associated with ancient Scottish, Irish and British heroes.

Starting with a medieval composition said to have been performed before King Arthur and his Knights as they sat at the Round Table, the programme will look at the medieval Gaelic legends of Fionn and Oisean, before finishing with a heartbreaking lament for the forlorn Cornish lover, Tristan.

This event is the last in Simon’s summer series of medieval harp concerts in the cathedral. Performed in the Priors House, a medieval vaulted chamber set within the ruins of the Cathedral in St Andrews, this series brings to life different aspects of ancient and historical Scottish music, from the medieval church, to stirring battle marches, to weeping Gaelic laments.

The harp Simon uses is a unique replica of the clarsach of Mary Queen of Scots. The 500-year-old original is preserved in a glass case in the National Museum in Edinburgh, as featured on the BBC’s “Reporting Scotland” last month, with Simon providing musical accompaniment! Simon commissioned his replica from Irish harp maker Davy Patton in 2006-7. With its amazing soundbox carved out of a single huge willow log, and its intricate carved and painted decoration, the replica harp is a precious medieval art object that fits very well into the ancient ambience of the cathedral.

Admission is free. Tickets can be reserved in advance by calling the Cathedral visitor centre on 01334 472563.

A preview of this event will be performed in the Wighton Centre, Dundee Central Library, Dundee, DD1 1DB, Wednesday 1st September, 1.15pm.

James Macpherson’s “Ossian” set to music

This is one of 9 extracts from James MacPherson’s romantic fantasy confection, set to music and published in the late 18th century in London by James Oswald. The texts are generally agreed to be completely new creations, loosely based on material taken from the old Gaelic Fenian lays. I was wondering if the tunes have any connection with the old lay tunes but I don’t think so. It is not yet clear to me where these tunes do come from though, and what their nearest musical comparisons are.


X:25

T:Number 1
N:The following Airs have been handed down since the Time of OSSIAN. The Musick taken from Mr. Mc.Pherson’s singing by Mr. Oswald.
Z:transcribed by Simon Chadwick from James Oswald, The Pocket Companion for the Guittar (Wighton 32001)
L:1/8
M:3/4
Q:220
K:C
c A|G2 z A c d|(d2e2) (ag)|e2 d c d e| g4 (c’b)|
w:It is Night, I am a-lo-ne fo-r-lorn on the hill of storms, – the
a4g2|e3d (cd)|e2a2zg|c’4b2|(ag) e2 (d>c)|
w:wind is heard in the – moun-tain, The Torr-ent shre-ks down – the
c4g2|(g2a2)b2|c’3b a g|(g2a2) g2|e2d2e2|
w:Rock, no Hut – re-cieves me from the rain, – for-lorn on the
{ga}b4 ag|g4 ga|_b4d’ c’|a4 c’/2a/2g|e4z2|
w:Hill of – Winds; rise – Moon, from be-hind thy – – clouds
d2c2d2|(e2c’a) (ge)|(e2d) c c d|({d}e2)z2g a|
w:stars of the Night – – ap- – pear – Lend me some light, to the
_b3 b a g|g2a2c’ a|c’a c’a (ge)|(e2d2)c2|
w:place where my love rests – from the toil – of – the – chace, – his
c4z2|d2c2(de)|({e}g4) ab|c’b c’b ag| e2 a2zg|
w:Bow near him un- – strung – his dogs – pan- – ting a-round him, but
g2g g a b|c’4a g|e2e d c e|d4c2|
w:here I must sit a-lone by the Rock of the mos-sy Stream, the
c2 c c (d>e)|g4 a2|(_b2a2)g>a|c’4 a>g|e3d (e/2d/2c)|[c4G4E4]:|
w:stream & the – wind roar nor can – I – hear – the Voice of – my – Love.

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