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The folk music of Ireland, admittedly richer and more varied than that of any nation, has not only survived the vicissitudes of of her tragic history, but has in reality been enriched by countless variants no less pleasing to the modern ears than the original strains from which they were derived.
Combined, the Irish and Scotch possess the richest musical heritage in the world, and so uninterrupted was the intercourse of wandering minstrels between the sister kingdoms - so similar the style of their melodies - that no inconsiderable portion of our finest airs became a sort of disputed property claimed by both peoples. "No stroke of art their texture bears, No cadence wrought with learned skill, And tough long worn by rolling years, Yet unimpaired they please us still; While thousands strains of mystic lore Have perished, and are heard no more."
Quoting from a recent issue of Musical America:
We start at the folk song, and find in it beauties characteristic of the people who produced it. In our crowded life today there is not much attention paid to it, except by composers in search of material, by artists looking for something novel to exploit, by organizations anxious to see it preserved.The great composers have gained inspiration from the music of their folk - from melodies created anonymously, or by some whose names do not figure impressively in history, but whose simple, beautiful songs have outlived the passing of generations.
Haydn says "it is the melody which is the charm of music; it is also that which is the most difficult to produce; the invention of a fine melody is a work of genius". Whether it be love or valor, tears or smiles, Irish melody is the inspiring source of all emotions of home, country and hearth.
The folk song, passing from father to son, travels far before taking formal shape. It may disappear and crop out in varied form in some other locality, owing to faulty memorizing or difference in vocal or musical ability. Folk music or traditional music is subject to many alterations and the format ive influence of many minds. What is beautiful or best remains.
When and by whom the more ancient melodies of Ireland were composed, or how long they have been passed on from one generation to another, are questions not easily answered at this late day, in the absence of positive historical evidence. Perhaps nothing illustrates this more convincingly than the notation "Author and date unknown" which follows the names of 122 of the 149 airs in Bunting's third collection, published in 1840, although 48 of them had been obtained in the last decade of the 18th century.
The late Dr. Joyce, a qualified authority, after making due allowances for duplicatons and overlapping in the scores of collections of Irish music published down to his day, and including his own, estimated that approximately 3,100 different airs and tunes were recorded in print, and that probably 2,000 more could be sifted from private manuscript collections, and from old people whose memories were stored with strains learned early in life.
A bewildering array of variants and versions greets the musical anatiquary on every hand, the the quest for new or distinctly different tunes is certain to involve the assiduous winnowing of much musical chaff.
It is now nearly two centuries since the first printed collection of Irish melodies came from the press. In the year 1726 John and William Neale of Dublin published A Book of Irish Tunes, and A Collection of Irish and Scotch Tunes, but it must not be forgotten that Playford's The English Dancing Master, published from 1651 to 1725, included not a few primitive Irish tunes.
In those days printed music, even if available, could be of little use to the majority of professional Irish musicians, whether harpers, pipers, or fiddlers, who, having lost their sight by the ravages of smallpox before the days of vaccination, had no choice but that of music as a vocation.
Under such circumstances it is obvious that imperfect memorizing of tunes acquired from oral instruction, or picked up promiscuously from the lilting or playing of others, accounts in part at least for the wealth of variants of well known airs and tunes traceable to a common origin, and the farther back they are traced the simpler and more skeletonic we find them. Skillful instrumentalists have in the process of time embellished the framework or theme with an embroidery of graces and varied finishes, which go far to relieve the monotony of melodies ordinarily consisting of but eitht bars in each part, and in some instances only four bars repeated.
The charm of dance music does not end with the rhythmic requirements of the dancer for although jigs, reels, and hornpipes were primarily composed to be accompanied by dancing, they have been in many instances wedded to song. By no means few are the examples known to us, which, played in slow time, are susceptible of much expression and beauty. Perceval Graves' "Father O'Flynn", set to the tune of "The Top of the Cork Road", is a conspicuous example.
The psychologist may understand why the rhythm or swing of an Irish or Scotch reel, or other Gaelic dance tune, so vitally affects the average audience, which listens unmoved to the strains of much more pretentious compositions. "Melody is truly the soul of music," remarked Sir John Graham Dalzell in 1781. "I have been twice present at convivial entertainments when the best compositions by the most celebrated performers were heard without emotion. Yet the moment an excellent, lively and inspiring tune - Mrs. McLeod of Raasay's reel - commenced, a party of dancers started up to enjoy it; nor was this a novelty." Nor are such incidents a novelty today.
Although no less than thirty collections of Irish music, whole or in part, were published in the three kingdoms in the 18th century, comparatively few dance tunes are to be found among their contents. Several collections of Scots Reels or Country Dances were issued in parts by Robert Bremner in Edinburgh from 1757 to 1768. Neil Stewart, John Riddle, Daniel Dow and at least a dozen others followed his example before the end of the century. In all of them are to be found certain tunes in common circulation in Ireland.
It appears that the gentle art of plagiarising tunes is no modern foible, for we have it on the authority of the editor of the Glen Collection of Scottish Dance Music that the practice of changing a few notes in a coveted tune, and renaming it as one's own, led to much ill feeling and endless confusion. The chief offenders in that line of perfidy, strange to relate, were the celebrated Neil Gow and his sons, their principal victim being William Marshall, butler and house steward to the Duke of Gordon, "the most brilliant as well as the most prolific composer of strathspey music Scotland ever produced".
A fair sprinkling of Irish airs and dance tunes graces the pages of A Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs, issued in six parts from 1782 to 1797 by John Aird of Glasgow.
The pioneer publication of Irish dance music - Jackson's Celebrated Irish Tunes - came from the press in 1774, but while many of Piper Jackson's jigs, and a few of his hornpipes, are well known to traditional Irish musicians, it is doubtful if a copy of his work exists today outside the files of Dublin museums. None of Jackson's tunes are included in The Hibernian Muse, published by J. and W. Thompson at London in 1787. Instead, special prominence is given to Carolan's compositions.
Another Irish piper named O'Farrell, who figured prominently on the London stage late in the 18th century, published three creditable collections of Irish airs and dance tunes, flavored with a few choice Scotch selections by way of variety. O'Farrell's Collection of National Music for the Union Pipers, etc., appeared in 1797, followed by O'Farrell's Pocket Companion for the Irish or Union Pipes, etc., two volumes in four parts, 1800-1810.
Bunting virtually ignored dance tunes. Among the 295 numbers in his three collections - 1796, 1809, 1840 - possibly ten may be considered as of that class, although but three tunes are so named. The same may be said of Moore's Irish Melodies, the majority of which were taken from Bunting's first and second collections.
Of the 1582 numbers (376 of them anonymous) in the Stanford edition of The Complete Collection of Irish Music as noted by George Petrie LL.D.; R.H.A.; published for the Irish Literary Society of London, 1902-1905, about ten per cent are of the dance tune variety. Less than 15 per cent of the contents of the Joyce collections may be considered of the same class. In other words, of the 2819 numbers in the Bunting, Petrie and Joyce collections combined, 300, or about eleven per cent would be a liberal estimate of the tunes which may be regarded as jigs, reels, hornpipes, or long-dances. Furthermore, it is well to remember that hundreds of variants are strewn through the pages of these collections, especially that two last named.
The great disparity between the number of airs, and dance tunes in such noted collections, plainly indicates that the former are the more ancient and diversified, bucause singing is a universal accomplishment, while skill in instrumental music is limited, and of comparatively recent development. Itis quite apparent also that an appreciable number of dance tunes have been evolved from airs and marches, since the Irish or Union bagpipe, and fiddle supplanted the harp in the latter half of the 18th century.
Whether attributable to the versatility of tradional musicians in composing new tunes, or the untiring diligence of modern collectors, the fact remains that more than 1200 classified dance tunes are recorded in the O'Neill Collections, published in 1903 and later years. The majority of them were noted down from the playing of the pipers, fiddlers, and fluters of the famous Irish Music Club of Chicago.
Compositions of another class, called Planxties in Ireland, and Ports in Scotland, were in vogue in the hayday of the harpers, especially Carolan. Port or puirt is the Gaelic word for jig, but the genesis of Planxty, variable in metre and tempo, has not been clearly defined. Both, however, were composed in honor of generous and hospitable patrons, who have been immortalized in the names of the tunes. All that survived of the planxties have been preserved in print, but their popularity has been on the wane for a long time.
The optimism of Dr. Joyce was hardly justified by the results obtained by the Irish Feis Ceoil Association from the "vast amount of material" comprised in the many manuscript collections of music awarded prizes in 1897, and several years thereafter. So much of the contents was found to be duplicated in the Petrie, Joyce and other collections, that by a tedious process of elimination, there remained but 85 unpublished melodies to grace the pages of the Feis Ceoil Collection of Irish Airs, which came from the press in 1914.
Following the suggestions of Dr. Joyce in the preface to Old Irish Folk Music and Songs, a critical examination of manuscript music obtained from such divergent sources as Ireland, England, Australia, and various States of the Union, disclosed little but variants of melodies previously published. That little, however, was too good to be lost. To this aggregation of Waifs and Strays have been added selections gleaned from rare volumes of the 18th century and later, which are practically inaccessible to the public in this generatio.
There remains but the pleasant duty of acknowledging our obligations to kindred spirits, inspired by a unity of musical sentiment, who manifested their helpfulness in various practical ways.
With a view to according due recognition, the names of contributors of tunes, or the sources from which they were obtained, follow the titles of all numbers in this work. Certain exceptionally important contributions to the cause, call for special mention even at the sacrifice of other considerations.
Of the manuscript collections available through the kindness of musical compatriots, the most valuable was one which included much of the repertory of Jeremiah Breen, a blind fiddler of great repute who flourished a generation ago in North Kerry, between Listowel and Ballybunion. His tunes were noted down by Thomas Rice, a talented pupil, and later copied by his friend James P. Walsh, now a Sergeant of police in Chicago. From a mutual friend, Richard Sullivan, a much admired dancer hailing from the same locality, came the information the Sergeant's precious manuscript had passed into the possession of Patrick Stack, a fiddler whose execution was no less admirable than his modesty. Not only did this knight of the bow favor the writer with the custody of the Rice-Walsh manuscript, so-called, but he obligingly wrote out settings of several of his own rare tunes which had so far escaped all collectors.
Another manuscript collection found among Sergeant James O'Neill's accumulations yielded some choice selections penned in 1878-9 by an enthusiast named Humphrey Murphy. A fragment of a nameless discolored collection of time-worn tunes - mainly waltzes and polkas - from the same source, rewarded investigation with a few rarities.
No formal expression of appreciation could do justice to the unselfish co-operation of Francis E. Walsh of San Francisco, Cal. A member of the one-time famous Irish Music Club of Chicago, Mr. Walsh, with the skill, patience and tact so essential to his task, scored in musical notation many fine variants and unpublished tunes as played by clever fiddlers, and fluters, now residing in that city. From the storehouse of his own memory he added other favorite numbers, and generously forwarded the total to the Editor in the interest of Irish musical regeneration.
For years the correspondence of Dr. H.C. Mercer of Doylestown, Pa., was an intellectual stimulant. Curator of the Bucks County Historical Society, Dr. Mercer is also an enthusiast on folk music, both Gaelic and American. Quotations from his published articles on the latter, are included in the descriptive text. To his generosity we owe the historical pictures "The Blind Fiddler" and "Lochaber No More", printed from blocks supplied at his personal expense.
As a sixth and final contribution to the cherished cause of perpetuating Gaelic musical tradition, the compilation of this work - unique in many respects - was undertaken in the sunset years of a long and adventurous life, and at a time when the difficulties of publication were most discouraging.
Should the musical antiquary, or modern composer, derive from a study of Waifs and Strays of Gaelic Melody as much profit as the editor did of pleasure in its compilation and publication, all is well and the desired end has been attained.
FRANCIS O'NEILL August 28, 1922 TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES:
|Intro.html||- O'Neill's Introduction|
|T||All the tunes by title|
|X||All the tunes by index number|