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ROMANCING REBELLION: 1798 and the songs of Thomas Moore
Moore*/Sir John STEVENSON (1761-1833)

My gentle harp, Come send round the wine, Erin the tear and the smile, After the battle
Moore/Sir Henry BISHOP (1786-1755)

As vanquished Erin
Moore/Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Avenging and bright, The minstrel boy (with piano trio)

The parting kiss (with piano trio)

The deserter (with piano trio)
Moore/Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)**

L’origine de la harpe
Moore/Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)

Silent, oh Moyle, Song of the battle eve, Weep on, weep on
Trad/Herbert HUGHES (1882-1937)

Siúil a ghrá
Moore/Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)

’Tis the last rose of summer, O the sight entrancing, Oft in the stilly night
O’Carolan/T. C. KELLY

Fanny Power, Lament (arr. for piano trio)
O’Carolan/Aloys FLEISCHMANN (1910-1992)**

Marbhna Eoghain Ruaidh Ui Néill

Oh! Breathe not his name (unaccompanied)
Pierce TURNER**

Union (When the planets are bright) (with piano trio)
* In view of the particular nature of this programme, the name of the poet precedes that of the composer
** Pieces marked with a double asterisk are original compositions, the others are arrangements of Irish folk melodies
Kathleen Tynan (soprano), Dearbhla Collins (pianoforte), The Irish Piano Trio: Michael d’Arcy (violin), Annette Cleary (cello), Dearbhla Collins (pianoforte)
Recorded 28th-30th July 1998, University Concert Hall, Limerick
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"Romancing Rebellion" is a programme devised by Kathleen Tynan in commemoration of the 1798 Rebellion. It has been presented several times in the theatre, in Wexford, Dublin and Belfast, and, in acknowledging that "’Tis songs that is most to be dreaded", it celebrates Irishmen’s capacity to find romance in some of the darkest hours of their country’s history. Away from the time and place that inspired the programme, it now offers us the opportunity get a perspective on Thomas Moore and his famous "Irish Melodies".

"Moore’s Irish Melodies", 124 in all, appeared between 1808 and 1834. Previous to this time there had been a dim awareness among English music lovers that Ireland had a large stock of extraordinarily beautiful national melodies, some of which turned up as "airs with variations" in the works of such fashionable Vauxhall composers of the late 18th Century as James Hook. Meanwhile a number of enthusiasts, such as Bunting, had been noting down as many melodies as they could find with the result that a large store of material, if not well known by the general public, was at least accessible. At the same time the 1798 Rebellion and subsequent events gave rise to a resurgence of national feeling.

The brief to Thomas Moore (1779-1852) from his Irish publishers, John and William Power, was to put words of his own to the melodies, "containing, as frequent as possible, allusions to the manners and history of the Country". The musical side of the first seven volumes was seen to by the Irish composer Sir John Stevenson (1761-1833), who provided "characteristic Symphonies and accompaniments" to the airs; for the last three volumes his place was taken by Sir Henry Bishop (1786-1855).

European fascination with things Celtic is uncanny and not easily explained. In the wake of the success of James McPherson’s spurious Ossian "translations" (actually invented by himself) "Moore’s Irish Melodies" travelled the civilised world; "’Tis the last rose of summer" was just the most famous of many. From the standpoint of the folk-music student in a post-Cecil Sharp age, the operation wrought by Moore and Stevenson might be considered appalling, and in fact it led to the formation in 1851 of "The Society for the Preservation and Publication of the Melodies of Ireland". Among its members were Charles Graves, Bishop of Limerick and father of Alfred Perceval Graves, who was to provide the words for over 130 of Stanford’s folk-song settings.

Writing in 1914 Stanford himself took a very stern view of what both men had done.

If Moore satisfied himself with a tragic or romantic poem, he would ruthlessly twist a "ploughman’s whistle" or a "Reel" to fit it. If he found a tune in the scale of G with an F natural, he would sharpen the unfamiliar note, regardless of the character of the modal scale which gave the whole distinction to the melody. ….. Many of the distorted tunes which he, Procrustes-like, lengthened and lopped, became so familiar to the world in their "transmogrified" shape and contents, that their fine old flavour became obliterated and forgotten. Unfortunately his collaborator, Stevenson, who was a man of a certain genius, was such a devotee of the great Haydn, that he read all the native music through Austrian spectacles and acquiesced in, if he did not suggest, the destruction of modal scales. (Pages from an Unwritten Diary, Edward Arnold 1914, pp. 19-20).

We shall come shortly to Stanford’s own work on these melodies. Apart from philological considerations, the achievement of "Moore’s Irish Melodies" was in itself of a nature that was anathema to Stanford, for their genius lay in the creation of an image of Ireland which has not entirely faded to this day; the Ireland of upper-class artistic gatherings at which flowingly adorned maidens lisped "’Tis the last rose" to a genteel piano accompaniment, a world lovingly evoked by Stanford himself in the first chapter of "Pages" and still dimly recognisable in the faded stucco of Edwardian pubs with their decaying embroidered upholstery, washed by generations of Guinness. This image was completed by another Irish composer who enjoyed worldwide fame, Michael William Balfe (1808-1870), and who himself arranged fifty of the Melodies for vocal quartet. However reluctantly, James Joyce attested to this sentimentally sweet side of his countrymen’s character in "Clay" from "Dubliners":

… and when she ended her song Joe was very much moved. He said that there was no time like the long ago and no music for him like poor old Balfe, whatever other people might say; and his eyes filled up so much with tears that he could not find what he was looking for and in the end he had to ask his wife to tell him where the corkscrew was.

Heard today, Moore’s Irish Melodies retain much of their sweetness. The words themselves echo through our consciousness in half-remembered phrases ("At the mid hour of night, when stars are weeping", "I’d mourn the hopes that leave me", "Come rest in this bosom, mine own stricken deer") that testify to their essentially literary nature. Stevenson’s accompaniments prove to be a less limiting factor in performance than their appearance on paper might lead one to suppose – they rarely go behind tonic and dominant chords if they can help it but they do let the melody speak for itself. The "symphonies" (i.e. introductions and interludes) certainly do not sound like folk-music but their invention is attractive. The four included on this CD (plus one of Bishop’s) all make their mark.

It may come as news to you that Beethoven set some of Moore’s Melodies, and in fact he didn’t. But some of the Irish tunes he arranged for the Scottish publisher George Thomson also appear in the Melodies. As early as 1855 an attempt was made to replace the words of the original Thomson publication with those of Moore, but Moore’s publishers would not allow it. The operation has now been carried out on a few of them for this disc. As for the correctness of this in an age where the urtext is king, the booklet reminds us that Beethoven was not provided with the texts anyway (much to his irritation), so there seems little harm in substituting one text he never saw for another. Inauthentic though they may be, a group of Beethoven folksong arrangements always makes welcome listening.

Though attractive in itself the Berlioz, an original setting of one of the poems in French, is perhaps neither here nor there. If the idea was to illustrate Moore’s reputation around Europe, then there are also settings of his poems worthy of inclusion by Mendelssohn, Schumann, Anton Rubinstein and many others. But that would be for another disc.

When Stanford protested that "It is almost a tragedy, that Ireland to this day is so loyal to the memory of her best-known poet, that she resents the alteration of a note of his work, looks on it as blasphemy to restore his tunes to their natural and proved forms", he was probably mindful of the dusty reception his own volume, "Moore’s Irish Melodies Restored and Arranged, op. 60", received on its publication in 1895. He was by this time a practised hand at arranging Irish melodies, having published his "Fifty Songs of Old Ireland" in 1882 and "Thirty Irish Songs and Ballads" in 1893. For all his vitriol towards others, his own methods are hardly beyond dispute. Many of the tunes he used, mostly taken from the Petrie Collection, display unconvincing accidentals while his harmonies are inclined to force modulations where none exist. The words provided by Alfred Perceval Graves for these two collections and the later "Fifty Songs of Erin, op. 76" (1901) are in the drawing-room literary tradition of Moore and rarely as memorable. And yet Stanford here, as in his Irish song-cycles to words by Moira O’Neill, J. Stevenson and W. M. Letts, his Irish Rhapsodies for orchestra and much else, also created an Ireland which has endured, an Ireland of crofts and crofters, of mountains, hill, glens and rugged shores. It may be argued that his crofters are seen through the eyes of a Victorian water-colour artist rather than experienced close at hand, but even so, he took Irish music out of the salon and into the world of nature. The Irish image in art was sublimated in the 20th Century by the poet W. B. Yeats with his powerful evocation of the ancient Celtic legends, and popularised by the "Celtic Twilight" movement. No Irish composer succeeded in establishing himself internationally as a musical equivalent of Yeats, though the English-born Bax espoused the cause wholeheartedly and unfairly maintained that Stanford "never came within a mile of the hidden Ireland".

Whatever the objection that Stanford turned Irish folksongs into Irish lieder, the sheer poetry and imagination of his arrangements raises many of then to the level of completely achieved works of art, far beyond the sights of a Stevenson or a Bishop. The prospect of "Moore’s Melodies" similarly elevated is an attractive one. Unfortunately it is not that simple. For one thing, it has been subsequently demonstrated that Moore’s "transmogrified" versions were not always the fruit of his own perverted imagination; they simply came from a different (not necessarily less authentic) source from that known to Stanford. For another, when it came to correcting accidentals Stanford relied on his own instinct rather than science; our own instinct may suggest that he often removed one problem only to introduce others. And, in the cases where Moore had set slow, sad words to a jig-like tune, the only restoration possible was to jack up the tempo from "Andante" to "Allegretto" and hope for the best. At times, too, Stanford’s sheer respect for the material seems to constrain his imagination in a way that did not happen in his collaborations with A. P. Graves (when he didn’t like Graves’s words he sent them back for changes).

For all the drawbacks there is much of imperishable beauty in Stanford’s op. 60; a rich vein of natural poetry which lifts "Moore’s Melodies" from the drawing room and sets them down in the hills and glens. Of the three included here, "Silent, oh Moyle" in particular gives an idea of what he could do. To my unholy English ears Stanford’s versions, whether acceptable as "restorations" or not, are artistically on a higher level than the original work. But Irishmen were unimpressed and it is symptomatic that in all three performances on this disc there is at least one attempt to "restore" the "restoration". In "Silent, oh Moyle" part of the melodic line is sung a third above what is written and I can only find this impertinent; Stanford’s arrangements are just as much "classics" as Brahms’s Volkslieder and if you don’t like what he did, then you should sing another arrangement (or arrange it yourself). Possibly Kathleen Tynan felt that Stanford himself was impertinent when he changed a few words in "Song of the Battle Eve", for she changes them back. He did this to make it easier to sing and since Tynan fails to make these words clear (her diction is generally excellent) she only demonstrates that Stanford was right. In "Weep on" the "re-restoration" amounts to shortening the crotchet upbeat at the beginning of the melody to a quaver; innocuous enough, but what would it have cost Tynan to sing what’s written?

Moore/Stevenson belongs to the early romantic age just as Moore/Stanford belongs to the late romantic one. In stating that "The airs are for all time but their dress must vary with the fashion of a fraction of time", Stanford evidently envisaged that new arrangements would be made by successive generations of Irish composers. So far this has not happened, as far as I am aware. Herbert Hughes (1882-1937) made a successful line in Irish folksong settings, though the example here is more Brahmsian than Stanford ever was, and the song by Aloys Fleischmann (1910-1992) (an original composition) is a dramatic affair. The quintessentially English Benjamin Britten was wont to treat folksongs as fodder for his own genius and his selection of "Moore’s Irish Melodies" (1960) was no exception. "’Tis the last rose" is extraordinarily evocative and the sheer independence of the piano part in "Oft in the stilly night" has its own fascination. On the other hand the dissonant splashings-around of "O the sight entrancing" are quite hideously inappropriate and surely represent one of the more distasteful episodes in the history of Anglo-Irish relations.

The disc also contains a few attractive arrangements for piano trio and concludes with a specially commissioned piece by Pierce Turner. This is the sort of neo-Celtic writing that inevitably sounds like the one that got away from the soundtrack to "Titanic", but let’s have more from where it came from, it might make a cult and probably deserves to.

Kathleen Tynan has an attractive voice, if an unremittingly bright one. She has a habit of attacking notes in the upper register softly and then swelling out on them, her vibrato increasing with her volume. At first I found this expressive but since it is applied willy-nilly it ends up by expressing nothing in particular. Her diction is very clear. However, since she has gone so far as to express her faith in the nationalist cause by preparing the programme and writing the notes for it, it is odd that she then adopts a basically very non-interventionist approach to the music. Occasionally a dramatic piece like the Fleischmann will draw more from her, and it coincidentally shows that her voice will not bear a lot of dramatic weight, but for the rest she sounds to be a demure Irish colleen no matter whether she is singing of the delights of her gentle harp or whether she is heaping curses upon the bloody Saxon oppressor. Her voice does have personality (in spite of these reservations I grew rather fond of it) and maybe her actual presence in the theatre yields more. But I have to go by what I hear on the disc. So, while recommending the CD for the general presentation of some interesting repertoire (pianist, strings and recording are all excellent), I feel that maybe a little more could have been extracted from it.

Christopher Howell

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My gentle harp, once more I waken

Come send round the wine

As vanquished Erin

Erin the tear and the smile

Avenging and bright

The minstrel boy

The parting kiss

The deserter

L'Origine de la harpe

Silent, oh Moyle

Siuil a ghra

'Tis the last rose of summer

Fanny power

O the sight entrancing

Song of the battle eve

After the battle

Weep on, weep on

Marbhna Eoghain Ruaidh Ui Neill


Oft in the stilly night

Oh! breathe not his name

Union (When the planets are in place)

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