Hamilton HARTY (1879-1941)
An Irish Symphony (1904: revised 1915 &
With the Wild Geese (1910)
National Symphony Orchestra
of Ireland/Proinssías O Duinn
rec [National Concert Hall, Ireland April
"Three great works by one of Ireland's greatest composers." "With the Wild
Geese is perhaps one of the finest tone poems in the British Music repertoire."
It is an important event to have a new recording of three of Herbert Hamilton
Harty's most effective works.
Naxos have teamed up with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland and
their Principal Conductor Proinssías O Duinn in this performance of
An Irish Symphony, With the Wild Geese and In Ireland.
All three works have been previously recorded - issued on Chandos under a
number of guises but all performed by the Ulster Orchestra under Bryden Thomson
- an equally good rendition. [see
review] The tone poem With the Wild Geese also exists in a recording
by the SNO under Sir Alexander Gibson on HMV coupled with works by German,
MacCunn and Smyth.
The Irish Symphony stands in a line of so-named pieces including those
by Sir Arthur Sullivan, Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and the Italian composer
Michele Esposito. Peter Quinn's less than comprehensive (for me) sleeve notes
tells us little about this work - for a more detailed understanding we have
to turn to David Greer's book on the composer and his notes for the Chandos
Hamilton Harty [born Hillsborough Co. Down] had entered a number of works
in the Feis Ceoil in Dublin. This was a festival begun in the days after
the death of Parnell in May 1897 and took the form of a competition. Harty
became involved as official accompanist and soon became acquainted with the
legendary singer John McCormack. Harty's String Quartet in F: Opus 1
was given its first hearing in 1900 to considerable praise from the local
press. In 1904 it was the turn of his Symphony to take the prize. Unlike
the Symphonies by Sullivan and Stanford this was based firmly on Irish tunes.
And there was a definite verbal programme.
The first movement was entitled 'On the Shores of Lough Neagh' - a sonata-form
piece which made use of two well known Irish melodies 'Avenging & Bright'
and 'The Croppy Boy.' These two tunes make the first and second subjects
respectively. A third tune - devised by the composer himself in truly Irish
vein, is used in the development.
The second movement is entitled 'The Fair Day' . In its time this piece has
often stood alone -a recording exists of the composer conducting the Hallé
playing this. The local fiddler tunes up and then begins a reel - 'The Blackberry
Blossom.' Further melodies are used in this well written scherzo. A respite
is gained with 'The Girl I left Behind me.' Harty apparently attempted to
mimic the marching bands from Ulster.
The Third Movement is a Lento ma non troppo. It is given the programmatic
title 'In the Antrim hills' The composer said that this was 'a wistful lament'
based on the ancient song - Jimin Mo Mhile Stor. Greer gives a quotation
from this poem in his notes for the Chandos recording:-
You maidens, now pity the sorrowful moan I make;
I am a young girl in grief for my darling's sake;
My true love's absence in sorrow I grieve full sore,
And each day I lament for my Jimin Mo Mhile Stor.'
The development of this tune is not really in a formal style. In fact it
has all the feel of an improvisation about it - this is hardly surprising
as Harty was an accomplished organist and choirmaster.
The last movement is a celebration of the Battle of the Boyne - 'The Twelfth
of July'. Harty's youthful acquaintance with the Orange marching bands coming
to the fore. The tune which haunts this movement is 'Boyne Water', although
the strains of the slow movement are heard -with the 'Jimin Mo' theme being
restated in the finale.
The present recording is vibrant. Harty was a great conductor as well as
a composer. He understood orchestral colour and wrote with great sympathy
towards the players. This mastery of the orchestra is obvious in the playing
on this CD. Given the difficulty in composing a symphony around folk tunes,
Harty gives a surprisingly good result.
The couplings are equally compelling. Harty 'dished up' an orchestral version
of the fantasy 'In Ireland' which was originally composed for flute
and piano in the last year of the first world war. Much later in his life,
in 1935 he made an arrangement for flute, harp and orchestra. The score is
prefaced by a short note:- "In a Dublin street at dusk two wandering street
musicians are playing."
Once again we appear to be in the presence of an improvisation. In fact it
is a highly structured piece. Mood writing would be a good description. We
are not allowed to remain melancholy or gay for long. The Irish idiom is
never far from these pages. Perhaps one feels that the superscription is
slightly misleading. It is a well written and deeply moving piece. Nothing
much to do with 'busking'. I notice that the harpist and the flute player
remain anonymous on the sleeve.
I plan to write more extensively about the remaining piece on this disk-
With the Wild Geese. However, it must be said that this is in my opinion
one of the finest 'tone poems' written by any composer from the British Isles.
Once again one must not become over burdened by the programme. Although the
piece is prefaced by two poems from the Anglo-Irish poet Emily Lawless, it
is as much a music painting of Ireland as it is a political or historical
However, the concept of the Irish fighting abroad in other men's wars has
always been a strong 'folk' motive in Eire -especially as it was seen as
the being the fault of the 'governing power' that Catholics were not allowed
to fight in the 'local' armies. The Irish Brigade distinguished itself in
may campaigns - none more so than the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745. It was
believed that the ghosts of the slain would return to their homeland. They
would return as Wild Geese, flying over the coasts of Clare County.
The superb scoring and vivid atmosphere is beautifully rendered by Proinssias
and the orchestra.
Harty has been reasonably served by recording companies over the past twenty
years - especially Chandos. Most of his 'big' works are or have been available.
Perhaps Naxos could do admirers of this composer proud by recording some
pieces which remain unheard to this generation: for example The Mystic
Trumpeter (a Walt Whitman setting), the chamber music and piano music.