Arrangements | 2020

Four Irish Melodies for Piano Trio


Year: 2020

Duration: 21

Instrumentation: vn/ vc/ pf

Program Notes

1 She Moved Through the Fair
2 The Plains of Boyle
3 My Lagan Love
4 The Mason’s Apron

Four Irish Melodies for Piano Trio are arrangements made for the Degani Piano Trio in 2020 and first performed by them in The Whale Theatre, Greystones that year.

She Moved Through the Fair is a beguiling melody collected and arranged by Herbert Hughes and published in the first volume of his Irish Country Songs. Thewords were written by Padraic Colum (1881-1972), who was a poet, novelist, and playwright and a leading figure of the Celtic literary revival. The poem She Moved Through the Fair was first published in ‘Wild Earth and Other Poems’ in 1916. Colum’s stated aim was to create words ‘as simple and as clear, as raindrops off the thatch’.

The melody too has a great simplicity with a reflective, meditative and inward quality. In this arrangement, it is played three times. The extensive introduction, links and coda are impressionistic in style and suggestive of the French school, in particular Maurice Ravel.

‘She stepped away from me and she moved through the fair,
And fondly I watched her move here and move there,
Then she went her way homeward with one star awake,
As the swan in the evening moves over the lake’.

The Plains of Boyle is a very attractive hornpipe that takes its name from the rich limestone grasslands to the east of the town of Boyle in County Roscommon. We should not however take this to mean that the hornpipe in some way sets out to depict the limestone plains. As Breandán Breathnach notes in reference to traditional Irish dance tunes in his Folk Music and Dances of Ireland (1971), Titles have no musical connection whatever with tunes; they are merely labels used for ready identification.

The earliest recording of The Plains of Boyle was made in 1924 by piper Michael Gallagher, who is sometimes credited with naming the tune, which had circulated before then as gan ainm (without name). It is now one of the favourite hornpipes of Irish traditional musicians. With its repetitive rhythms and clear form, the tune has much in common with baroque music and the arrangement on the CD sets out to
exploit this connection. The arrangement is one of the most elaborate on the disc and consists in a series of variations and developments on the tune, with chord sequences suggestive of the style of George Frideric Handel.

The lyrics of My Lagan Love are by the Irish poet Joseph Campbell (1879–1944), who collaborated with the folk-song collector and arranger Herbert Hughes. The tune was collected by Hughes in County Donegal in 1903 and published with Campbell’s words in Songs of Uladh in the following year. The original title of the ballad was The Belfast Maid, the Lagan being the river on which Belfast is built.

The hauntingly evocative melody has a muted, wistful and introspective character,  The tune, which is played three times in different arrangements with elaborate introduction, linking, and closing in mixolydian mode, commonly found in Irish traditional slow airs. In effect, the mixolydian mode is a major scale with a lowered 7th note. This change of just one note is responsible for the sense of strange and startling richness in the words of the composer Arnold Bax.

The Mason’s Apron was first published in A Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs
I-IV (1790-1797) edited by James Aird and published in Glasgow. The title given in this publication is ‘The Masson Laddie’, but the tune has all the essential elements of the reel we now know as The Mason’s Apron. There is considerable evidence that many Irish reels are in fact of Scottish origin or influence. If The Mason’s Apron is amongst these, it is now fully absorbed into the Irish tradition and has become one of the most popular of all the dance tunes. Like numerous Irish dance tunes, the melody makes extensive use of repetition, giving an almost minimalist character to the music. The tune is in two parts of eight bars each, which are repeated to give the pattern aabb, totalling thirty two bars. The eight-bar phrases also contain internal repeated motifs and after completion theentire melody is played over again as often as required. The arrangement here focuses on this repetitive aspect of the tune, but seeks to achieve variety by a range of techniques including the addition of countermelodies, changes of texture and
orchestration, modulation and syncopation.