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Irish Rhapsody   Irish music literature offers many seemingly timeless melodies, although its genuinely traditional aspects may sound to many ears even more diluted than they did in the days before the Dubliners and Clancy Brothers. The modern cult-interest in diverse forms of Irish music continues, however, and over the last half-century the conventional boundaries of Irish music, and particularly of Irish song, have been stretched to accommodate anything generically folksy, whether authentic or not, with Country-and-Western-influenced arrangements receding more recently to make way for the noisier idiom of Rock. The distinctions between each of Irish song's categories may have become blurred over the years, but even after centuries of famine trouble and strife, Shelley's romantic notion of the sweetest songs being 'those that tell of saddest thought' still appeals to an Irish heart, and all lovers of Irish music remain susceptible to a lilting tune, especially when it is attached to suitably sentimental lyrics. In previous centuries the genres of Irish song were more distinct, although after the early nineteenth century they became entwined with the advent of popular music publishing and the commercial exploitation of the Irish folk-song tradition. On the one hand, at an academic level, the evolution of Irish folksong may be traced through the collections and/or arrangements left by, among others, George Petrie (1789-1866), Alfred Perceval Graves (1846-1931), Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) and Herbert Hughes (1882-1972). In a performing sense, the thread of folk and more ad hoc creations is discernible in the work of harpist-collector Edward Bunting (1773-1843), the poet and arranger Thomas Moore (1779-1852) and the novelist-playwright and folklorist Samuel Lover (1796-1868) to Percy French (1854-1920), the three last-named having been researchers and entertainers who sang and played their own adaptations of Irish folk material in the salons of Britain and America. Nowadays, however, while the tunes of many old Irish songs retain their familiar ring, kept alive by folk groups, the once-familiar words have often already fallen into obscurity. Byron's erstwhile friend, Moore was once rated foremost among Irish Romantic poets. A native of Dublin, he is immortalised at 'The Meeting Of The Waters' memorial at Avoca, in County Wicklow. From 1807 onwards Moore published various sets of Irish Melodies, traditional melodies set to his own lyrics, mostly in the sentimental vein of:
Erin, the tear and the smile in thine eyes
Blend like the rainbow that hangs in the skies;
Shining thro' sorrow's stream,
Sadd'ning thro' pleasure's beam,
Thy suns, with doubtful gleam
Weep while they rise.
Best known of Moore's many plaintive 'melodies' is 'The Last Rose Of Summer', which dates from 1813. According to Percy Scholes, Moore's tune was an adaptation of 'The Groves Of Blarney' (by R.A. Millikin, circa 1790), itself a borrowing from an earlier air called 'Castle Hyde'. The words, however, are entirely Moore, and among his most characteristically poignant: "'Tis the last rose of summer left blooming alone / All her lovely companions are faded and gone." First featured by balladeer Moore himself, the song was later a favourite encore of coloratura sopranos from Patti to Galli-Curci and beyond. In the context of late-nineteenth-century American musical theatre the Dublin-born Victor Herbert (1859-1924) was a leading light. The darling of large and adoring society audiences, this famous grandson of Samuel Lover was a perfect prototype of the Americanised Irishman. After training in Stuttgart and Vienna, he won early fame as a cellist before producing his first light opera, the first in a series of more than forty, on Broadway, in 1894. Later, Herbert fronted a noted salon orchestra and his genial and melodious simplicity may still be appreciated in a range of vocal music and in various suites for orchestra, including several unpublished, of which the best remembered are 'Irish Rhapsody' (1892) and 'Columbus' (1903). 'The Irish Have A Great Day Tonight' was first heard in his ill-fated Broadway operetta Eileen (64 performances; 1917). The show was originally rehearsed for production as Hearts of Erin, but fell victim to a fire in a Toronto theatre, an act of arson, Herbert later claimed, against the composer's anti-English stance. During the early decades of the twentieth century the gramophone and, later, radio added further dimensions to the evolution of Irish song, which has since provided a significant revenue to the record companies, particularly in the United States where second, and third, fourth and fifth-generation immigrant Irish audiences still welcome nostalgic reminders in song, however dim, of the 'Ould Country'. In a transatlantic sense the Scots-Irish tenor John McCormack (1884-1945) was in many ways the instigator of this ongoing trend, the most famous Irish singer of his generation and a vigorous promoter of things Irish. A native of Athlone, from star attraction in London, in opera at Covent Garden and in Boosey and Chappell Ballad Concerts from 1907 onwards, after 1910 McCormack pursued a bigger career as a recitalist in the United States, where, particularly after taking on American citizenship, his regular concert-tours drew record-breaking crowds. In recital, across America and in European tours, he would invariably follow the scheduled classical arias and Lieder with a group of what he termed 'the beautiful Irish folk-songs which have survived the ages because of the deathless appeal they make to the hearts of men.' Beautiful and appealing McCormack's selections may have been, but only a proportion were folk-songs in the truest sense; yet the tenor's legacy on records includes many memorable (not to say definitive) renderings of the traditional and stage-Irish alike, including 'The Wearing of the Green' (a patriotic Irish 'street-song' whose words, beginning "Oh Paddy, dear, and did you hear the news that's goin' round / The shamrock is by law forbid to grow on Irish ground" date from 1797) and Moore's rousing 'Minstrel Boy' (Irish Melodies, 1813). In recital, as also on disc, his audiences were regaled with such once hackneyed Tin Pan Alley/Broadway 'Irish' bestsellers as 'My Wild Irish Rose' and 'When Irish Eyes Are Smiling'. Written and featured by Buffalo-born tenor Chauncey Olcott (1858-1932) in collaboration with Cleveland, Ohio-born composer Ernest R. Ball, 1878-1927), these songs first appeared, respectively, in The Romance Of Athlone (1899) and The Isle Of Dreams (1912). The inextinguishable spark of Irish folk-song has frequently inspired Irish and non-Irish composers alike. From the late nineteenth century onwards, for example, there have been numerous setting of the 'Londonderry Air'. First printed as an air in Petrie's 1855 collection, its earliest words ("Would I were Erin's apple blossom o'er you") were devised by Perceval Graves. The tune is still world-renowned through the 1913 setting 'Danny Boy' by the English barrister, lyricist and songwriter Frederic E. Weatherly (1948-1929) and as 'Irish Tune from County Derry' (arranged 1902, first published, as a piano solo, 1911), by the Australian pianist-composer Percy Grainger (1882-1961). The strains of Tin Pan Alley American stage-Irish-ness are amply represented here, too, by the Old Fashioned Sing-Along Medley of tunes by Rhode Island-born composer, writer, actor, director and producer George Michael Cohan (1878-1942), while from Tin Pan Alley's English equivalent comes Macnamara's Band, a ditty of 1917, with music by Shamus O'Connor and words by John J. Stamford. Former vaudevillian Cohan penned a string of now-forgotten Broadway shows, includin
Disc: 1
Sing-Along Medley (arr. R. Hayman)
1 I. The Irish Washerwoman
2 II. The Minstrel Boy
3 III. The Rakes of Mallow
4 IV. The Wearing of the Green
5 V. The Last Rose of Summer
6 VI. The Girl I Left behind Me
7 My Darling Irish Rose
8 An Old Fashioned Sing-Along Medley
9 Macnamara’s Band (arr. R. Hayman)
10 Irish Tune from Country Derry
11 Irish Rhapsody
12 Eileen: The Irish Have a Great Day Tonight
13 Sing-Along Medley (arr. R. Hayman)
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