Lost Music Of The Gaels

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Luke Daniels

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Carolans Concerto

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Si Bheag agus Si Mhor

The Lost Music of the Gaels explores the possibility that the continuo style that so influenced English composers of the period and Ireland’s own indigenous dance music had met within the Gaelic tradition in the 17th century.

Whilst an innate sense of traditional Irish music informs his approach to the classical ensemble, his ability to move across into romantic soundings of the 19th century and beyond present beautiful new works that depict an alternate history of Irish music from the 17th century up to the present day.

Toirdhealbhach Cearbhallain (Turloch Carolan) is unquestionably the most significant pivotal figure at this point in Ireland's richly embroidered musical history.

His contribution to modern composers should never be underestimated, even if it is frequently misunderstood. Carolan lived in a period of pervasive and dramatic change. Though blind, the travelling Harper would have witnessed the rapid withering away of the old Gaelic order and all the art forms and institutions that held it together for many centuries.

The new religion of Christianity had grafted itself onto paganism and the old gods were retreating into a Celtic twilight. A new language was being forced onto the indigenous people. A new social order was emerging and with it a system of economics and politics far removed from the established tribal systems.

After the collapse of the old Irish order the special place of the harper-bard was being swept away and they had to adapt to support themselves by adopting what was currently the fashionable style. Baroque music then favoured in Europe was familiar to the new owners of the land who didn't understand the sophisticated but strange-sounding music of the older Irish tradition.

It should be noted that the city of Dublin was one of the largest and most sophisticated cities in Europe. Italian theatre and music were the height of fashion inside the pale and Turlough, like many other musicians, was a frequent visitor and guest of many dignitaries. Undoubtedly he would have heard the huge organ in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and the harpsichord and violin being played in the drawing rooms of his hosts. His incredible aural memory would have enabled him to store away these strange new sounds and later re-deploy them in his own unique way.

Turlough Carolan was a walker between worlds. Not only the old Gaelic world and emergent modern Ireland, but his own inner world and spiritual life made him as complex as the age in which he lived. His name is frequently subtitled with the term “last of the bards” but he was more than this. As a bard his words have not endured the way his music has. His poetry does not have the capacity to inspire the way his music unceasingly does. For Carolan was more appropriately “Last of the Shaman”. Carolan was a Healer. He knew the power of music to lift men and women out of poverty, disease, starvation, exclusion and alienation. He knew too that music had the power to transcend life, that music, like language was a living thing and could not be fixed into set forms and singular interpretations. To his untutored ear, baroque reflected back the passion of his own inner life and provided the means to communicate with the life that he could not see about him.

Turlough Carolan kicked open the door and let the light come blazing in. Perhaps that is as it should be. It is the way of creative people who are tuned to things outside our understanding to show us the way. Carolan unfettered traditional music from the confines of the tradition and set it free from the Pharisees and purists to become its own creature; to embrace and make a marriage with whatever was worthy, inspiring, and elevated man and music to be once more with the gods!

I like to think that if Carolan himself were sitting listening to these new works and challenging arrangements of his own melodies, he would raise a glass in fond appreciation.

Luke Daniels has chosen in this recording to explore musical bridges in and around one of the greatest sonic bridge builders in Irish music history – the 17th and 18th century harper Carolan. In so doing he has taken turnings off the main roads of the tradition down forgotten paths, and presents these for us through a fertile musical imagination. A voice is being worked out and worked through in this recording. Who knows what seeds will be borne on the wind of his creativity.

Michael O'Suillebhain

Track Listing

1 Tunes for Grace
2 The Swallows Tail
3 Si Bheag agus Si Mhor
4 Suantra - Music of sleep and Dreams
5 Carolan's Concerto
6 Reel Beatrice & reel of Fortune
7 The Last Rose of Summer
8 Eire

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