Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Classical Music from the Emerald Isle

If you think Irish music is just "Danny Boy" and/or Celtic Women, read on. Ireland has a rich classical music tradition, and a wealth of composers who have made great contributions to the classical repertoire.

Here's a quick run-down of a few -- some familiar, some perhaps not. But this is rundown of the some of the music I'll be featuring on my St. Patrick's Day special edition of "Gamut."

Irish Liber Hymnorium - Just as Irish monasteries became the repository for books during the Middle Ages, they were also the repository of music. The Liber Hymnorium is an 11th Century collection of Irish hymns preserved for posterity.

John Dowland -This master lutenist and Elizabethan composer not only set the standard for playing and writing for the lute, but may have also been a secret agent as well!

Turlough Carolan - Carolan (sometimes O'Carolan) was a blind itinerant harpist who wandered throughout Ireland in the early 1700's. In his journeys, he collected a great many folk songs that he recrafted for his own compositions. Carolan is said to have been influenced by the Concerto Grossi of Francesco Geminiani, an Italian composer who eventually settled in Dublin, and wrote in the style of Corelli (how's that for a classical connection?). Carolan's works form the core repertoire for traditional Irish music, as well as providing a rich source of inspiration for later generations of classical composers.

John Field - Virtuoso pianist and composer John Field was one of the many "Wild Geese" who left Ireland to seek his fortune. He spent most of his professional life touring Eastern Europe, especially Russia. He was friends with Carl Czerny and Franz Liszt. Field created the piano nocturne. Field's nocturnes inspired Chopin to write some as well.

Charles Villiers Stanford - Stanford used Irish melodies often as the basis for his works. His clarinet concerto is still often performed. This early 20th Century composer taught at the Royal College of Music, and counted Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams, John Ireland, Frank Bridge, and Herbert Howells among his pupils.

Hamilton Harty - This Irish composer and conductor wrote many works either directly quoting Irish melodies, or inspired by Irish subjects. He was well-regarded in the between-war years, and his music is well represented on recordings.

Howard Ferguson - Ferguson studied with Ralph Vaughan Williams, and although he wrote relatively few compositions, they're all uniformly finely-crafted works in the second English renaissance style.

Arthur Sullivan - Although considered a quintessentially English composer, is of Irish descent. And if everyone's Irish on St. Patrick's Day, then surely Sullivan would qualify...


  1. Don't forget about Michael William Balfe, who composed such popular operas as "The Bohemian Girl."

  2. Absolutely. I didn't have a opportunity to play Balfe this morning, so that's why he's not on the list. Ditto for Victor Herbert, Joan Trimble, Charles Wood, Matthew Rowan, Frederick May, tephen McManus, and who knows how many others!