Although he is one of the most distinguished Irish composers of
his generation, Seóirse Bodley’s music is still largely under-represented
in the catalogue. I can only mention a Marco Polo disc with his
Fourth and Fifth Symphonies (8.225157). There also exist some
long-deleted LPs, but I have never been able to lay hands on them.
So, this release is most welcome. As can be seen from the above
details, the three works recorded here span some fifteen years
of his long and busy composing life, thus shedding light on his
stylistic progress over these years.
No.1 for Chamber Orchestra is a fairly early work. It is
also often referred to as Chamber Symphony No.1 - there is a
second dating from 1982. This substantial piece is scored for
a small mixed ensemble of eleven players: string quartet, flute,
bassoon, horn, harp, piano and percussion/two players. Of the
four short movements the elegiac third is particularly beautiful.
The musical idiom in this early work is comparatively modern
either freely tonal or dodecaphonic or combining both. It nevertheless
displays a remarkable level of invention and the scoring for
small mixed ensemble is resourceful.
A small white
cloud drifts over Ireland is really a symphonic poem. “Ireland
is viewed as if from the perspective of a small white cloud”
(the composer’s words). You might say that this is Ireland seen
through Google Earth. The three sections of the work are played
without break, each of them roughly based on Celtic music, albeit
newly-composed, thus a jig and a reel in the outer sections
framing a slow air. This colourful piece can best be described
as a kaleidoscope in which different musical techniques collide:
tonal chords, clusters, angular phrases and allusions to Irish
No.2 “Ro grádaiges íatha Ėirenn” (“I have loved the
lands of Ireland”) is a large-scale work commissioned by the
Irish government in commemoration of Pádraig Pearse. The work
is in seven movements, whose titles are taken from early Irish
sources, evoking “Irish reality, myth and Irish experience”.
Movements I (“The sun shines through the windows”) and VI (“The
Blackbird”) are expressions of Irish reality. Movements II (“Exile”)
and IV (“Love”) suggest Irish experience whereas Movements III
(“Aisling I : Morrigan”), V (“Aisling II : Cuchulainn”) and
VII (“Aisling III : Banba”) clearly represent Irish myths. As
might be expected, the first movement is full of light, and
the music dazzles and shimmers. Although exile has been a dramatic
occurrence in Irish history, the second movement rather concerns
itself with recollections of home and feelings of longing expressed
in long, folk-inflected melodic lines. Harsher episodes briefly
disrupt the melancholy, nostalgic music that makes up most of
this movement. The third movement (“Morrigan”) is, appropriately
enough, a devilish, at times ironic Scherzo: Morrigan is the
Queen of Demons. In the fourth movement (“Love”), the music
speaks for itself and is often quite delicately scored. The
next movement (“Cuchulainn”) tells of heroic deeds and does
so with bright Waltonian fanfares, battling timpani and much
vigorous writing while still allowing for calmer, more melodic
episodes. The sixth movement (“Blackbird”) is a miniature tone
poem whose main theme was anticipated in the second movement
(“Exile”). The final movement is the longest of all and, to
a certain extent, a recapitulation of earlier thematic material.
In the 18th century aisling, Ireland appears in the
guise of a beautiful woman Banba. A vigorous introduction leads
into the main movement in which a softly played folk-inflected
tune reminiscent of the fourth movement (“Love”) and material
from Aisling II (“Cuchulainn”) alternate. After a good deal
of thematic dialogue, the music reaches a climax with an intense
version of the Banba theme. Then, the music “holds its breath”
to a solo violin and a restatement of some of the opening rounds
off the symphony.
Second Symphony is a very attractive and endearing work, and
I am sure that this newly released recording will earn it new
friends, for this is Bodley at his most straightforwardly communicative.
It certainly deserves more than the occasional hearing.
from the RTÉ’s archives are excellent and so are the performances.
This beautifully produced release is most welcome for Bodley’s
music has been neglected for too many years. It is to be hoped
that more will follow. This music is far too good to be ignored.