Seamus Heaney


Heaney in Music
As part of a major celebration of Seamus Heaney’s 70th birthday, RTÉ has commissioned composers Rachel Holstead, Kevin O’Connell and Ian Wilson to write short pieces for the RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet in response to the poet’s work. The three pieces will be premiered in Heaney’s presence at an event in the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Easter Monday, 13 April, his actual birthday, and will be broadcast live on RTÉ Lyric FM. The three pieces will be available to listen to online for a month afterwards on a dedicated website: rte.ie/heaneyat70

Kevin O’Connell cites a line from Heaney’s poem ‘Fosterling’, ‘Me waiting until I was nearly fifty / to credit marvels’, saying that it ‘divides his output (too neatly, of course) into two categories, as an early bogginess looks up to notice the ethereal’. This prompted O’Connell to think about two kinds of material: a flighty, high, fast music and a more rustic dance element, including an Irish jig and bag-pipe drones.

O’Connell describes Heaney as a beacon, especially for anyone who grew up in Derry: ‘He is a challenging presence but also a reassuring one. An artist now must negotiate a tricky path between the claims of art and those of the world. Heaney in this respect has been exemplary.’

His work takes it’s title, ‘Where should this music be?’, from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. ‘In Shakespeare’s play, Ferdinand hears Ariel’s sweet airs coming from he knows not where and asks, “Where should this music be, i’ th’ air or th’ earth?” This question might be a different way of posing the Heaney conundrum.’

Ian Wilson’s Across a clear blue sky is inspired by Heaney’s ‘Horace and the Thunder’ and the 9/11 attacks that prompted it. Wilson has incorporated radios and drumming toys into the work. ‘Heaney’s ability to always respond to diverse aspects of the human experience with insight and dignity is an inspiration,’ says Wilson. ‘I have attempted to underpin the dark and aggressive elements in this piece of music with a sanguinity that I hope will acknowledge the poet’s influence on it.’

Heaney’s poem ‘The Given Note’ – about the island fiddler who receives the mysterious ‘Port na bPucaí’ slow air – is the conceptual touchstone for Rachel Holstead’s piece. ‘The poem’s fiddler becomes a metaphor for the poet himself, for his seeing and hearing of the beauty and ordinary and extraordinary mysteries of the world,’ says the composer. ‘The fiddler’s grave rephrasing of the tune becomes Heaney’s translation into poetry of the “loud weather” of this world and human nature.’

Ergodos Festival
Taking place across Dublin on 17–25 April, the Ergodos Festival focuses on an ‘off-grid’ theme this year. Festival Director Garrett Sholdice describes this as ‘music which exists outside of defined practice, music that falls between the cracks, music that is difficult to pin down.’

The festival includes performances and compositions from those who venture off the equal-tempered tuning grid of the piano, such as the Amsterdam-based just intonation specialists, Trio Scordatura, and Gamelan Sekar Pethak, an Indonesian percussion orchestra based at the University of York. As Sholdice says, ‘the piano is a metaphor for so much; by defining things, so often we try to fit a square peg into a round hole.’

The festival also features artists who fall between more metaphorical grids, such as genre, including the traditional Irish fiddle player Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh who works with live electronics, composer Judith Ring who works with acoustic instruments and pre-recorded material, and Morla, the wind/guitar duo who inhabit the periphery of jazz.

Installations, workshops and talks also feature as part of the Ergodos Festival, as well as the Irish premiere of American composer James Tenney’s In a large, open space. The 1994 work is scored for ‘twelve or more sustaining instruments’ who are distributed as widely and evenly as possible around, as the name suggests, a large, open space. The audience is able to move freely around the players, who sound long notes from a gamut of ‘available pitches’. ergodos.ie

New Books on Music
Going to the Well for Water is the title of a new book of field diaries by the uilleann piper, singer and collector Séamus Ennis (1919–1982). The diaries, translated from Irish and edited by Ríonach uí Ógáin, cover the period 1942–1946, when Ennis was a full-time collector with the Irish Folklore Commission. In addition to being meticulous descriptions of his work, the people he encountered and his communications with the Commission’s head office in Dublin, the diaries are an account of life in the Gaeltacht areas of Donegal, Mayo, Conamara and West Clare during the Second World War. The book, published by Cork University Press, is illustrated with maps and illustrations of Ennis’ journeys throughout Ireland. corkuniversitypress.com

The Irishness of Irish Music by John Flynn is published by Ashgate. In the context of recent popular, traditional and classical music in Ireland, O’Flynn discusses the relationship between Irish identity and Irish music. Includes discussion of Bill Whelan, Sinéad O’Connor, the Corrs, Altan, U2, Martin Hayes, Dolores Keane and Gerald Barry. ashgate.com

Dord an Dúchais by Jean-Yves Bério, published by Coiscéim, is an introduction to, and analysis of, 12 traditional sean-nós songs. It includes a CD of singing by Joe Heaney and Sarah Ghriallais, and the text is in Irish, English, French and Spanish. coisceim.ie

Continuum Books publishes a new book in May by the philosopher Roger Scruton, author of The Aesthetics of Music. In Understanding Music, Scruton examines the fundamental elements of a great piece of music, arguing for tonality and rhythm, and applies his theory to a variety of composers and musical forms, from Wagner to Boulez and Hoagy Carmichael.

Also published by Continuum is a series of books on significant popular music and rock albums. The series, named 33 1/3, features over seventy albums, including U2’s Achtung Baby, Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones, Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life, David Bowie’s Low and Nick Drake’s Pink Moon. New additions in June will include Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine, The Clash’s London Calling and Outkast’s Aquemini.

Yale University Press publish two new music books in May. The Tenor: History of a Voice by singer John Potter presents details about the world’s great performers, styles of singing in different countries, teachers and music schools, and the variety of compositions for the tenor voice. The Art of French Piano Music: Debussy, Ravel, Fauré, Chabrier by Roy Howat, who is Keyboard Research Fellow at the Royal Academy of Music in London, in granting Fauré and Chabrier equal consideration with Debussy and Ravel, attempts to reshape perceptions of this entire musical tradition. yalepress.yale.edu

Finally, published in April to tie in with Lang Lang’s week-long residency with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican and St Luke’s, Aurum publish the twenty-six-year-old Chinese pianist’s autobiography titled Journey of a Thousand Miles. aurumpress.co.uk

Knowing the Score
Knowing the Score, a new report on Local Authorities and music in Ireland, has just been published by St Patrick’s College, as part of a collaboration with Sligo and Wexford County Councils. Written by Ailbhe Kenny, the report describes as a ‘quiet revolution’ the fact that since 2007 every Local Authority has an Arts Officer, and presents an overview of the range of artistic activity that is taking place under the remit of the Authorities. However, the report also found that the training background of over half of all Local Authority Arts Officers was in the visual arts, with only 17% having some musical training and only one of the thirty-six Officers having studied music at third level. Among several recommendations, across music education, commissioning and musicians’ professional development, most significantly the report recommends the establishment of a National Music Coordinator to promote a strategic approach to music development nationwide, as well as the employment of specialist music consultants by Arts Offices. The report was launched at a National Music Symposium in Dublin on 24th March. For more information email caroline [at] artscope.ie

Music in Conamara
Ceantar na nOileán, the group of Irish-speaking islands 56 kilometres west of Galway City in Conamara, is hosting Sult, a new festival focusing on the distinctive musical tradition of the area, organised by local group Muintearas. Comprising the islands of Eanach Mheáin, Leitir Móir, Garumna and Leitir Mealláin, the festival is bringing many leading traditional musicians to the area for the weekend of 17–19 April, including Liam O’Connor (fiddle), Derek Hickey (accordion) and Harry Bradley (flute). According to accordion-player Colm Gannon, one of the organisers, ‘There is a very distinct style of music around the islands, with a huge emphasis on rhythm, and that is why the local style of dancing is so unique and rhythmic.’ While the area is rich in song, language and dancing, one of the aims of the festival is to bring the instrumental traditional to the fore again. muintearas.com

Sult will be followed shortly after by the more established annual tribute to the great traditional singer Joe Heaney, Féile Joe Éinniú, which takes place in Carna, Co. Galway on 1–3 May and includes a tribute to the singer Dara Bán Mac Donnacha, who died last year. For more information email
michealocuaig [at] hotmail.com

On 1 January, Dublin-based composer Brian Ledwidge Flynn began Abraxas, his project to post a new short piece of music on his blog every day of 2009. At time of going to press, he hadn’t missed a day. We asked why: ‘I’ve always enjoyed spontaneous expression and envied meticulousness.  I decided I would be creatively spontaneous in a meticulous way for twelve months. I hope to pick up good habits and make them second nature whilst publicly exposing and exhausting my “bad” habits. Only rule: each piece must be a sincere effort.’

Most of the works, which are seldom longer than a minute and a half, are produced and performed by the composer in his home studio, with occasional guest performers or recordings of concert works. Working two day-jobs, Ledwidge Flynn has had to develop reliable methods to continue the project: ‘They are composed directly onto paper during my daily drudge about town. I tend to start with a logical construct and attempt to breathe some life into it. After dinner, I typeset the music, convert it to MIDI and import it into a digital audio workstation for a cosmetic touch-up. I also email scores to instrumentalist friends and have them email back a recording; they have to interpret the lunch-time squiggles as best they can.’ abraxas.brianledwidgeflynn.com

Galway Early Music Festival
The Galway Early Music Festival, which takes place on 15–17 May in Galway City, is described as ‘a voyage to Ireland, Cyprus, Guernsey and other ports of call, sailing through waters alive with mermaids, sirens, sailors and romance’. In keeping with the nautical theme, then, the Harp Consort will perform a programme of seventeenth-century sailor songs entitled ‘The Boatemen’. The Unicorn Ensemble provide the festival’s romantic counter-theme with ‘The Isle of Aphrodite’, a collection of love songs from the court of the Cypriot king, Janus (1375–1432).

The Kiili Youth Early Music Group from Estonia will perform renaissance dances at the Galway City Museum, in a bid to involve younger audiences. Instrumental workshops will also take place, led by the Harp Consort’s Andrew Lawrence-King (harp) and the Unicorn Ensemble’s Michael Posch (recorder).  galwayearlymusic.com

Lyric FM
RTÉ Lyric FM, Ireland’s music and arts radio station, will be ten years old in May and will be marking the anniversary with a new release on the RTÉ Lyric FM label. The new CD, Hiccup, will feature works commissioned by the station, including compositions by Elaine Agnew, Gavin Bryars, Greg Caffrey, Fergal Carroll, Rhona Clarke, Siobhán Cleary, David Fennessy, Bernard Geary, Marian Ingoldsby, Fergus Johnston, Andreja Malir and Jürgen Simpson, written for solo voice, choir, piano, flute and guitar, string quartet, baroque ensemble, electronics and orchestra with narrator.

Copies of Hiccup are available for free from RTÉ Lyric FM from May onwards. To receive your copy, email your name and address to lyric [at] rte.ie or send a postcard to RTÉ Lyric FM, Cornmarket Square, Limerick. lyricfm.ie

Roger Doyle’s ‘Cinema for the Ear’
Marking his sixtieth birthday, composer Roger Doyle releases a recording of new work entitled Cold Steel Army this April (see review in this issue). Including the first of his ‘cinema for the ear’ pieces, Adolf Gébler, Clarinettist, which premiered at the National Concert Hall in February of last year, Doyle has started working on a similar such piece, a horror story called The Room in the Tower, for pre-recorded acted scenes, electronics and ensemble. The script is by novelist Carlo Gébler and is adapted from a story by E.F. Benson. The Crash Ensemble, in association with the Dublin Electronic Arts Festival (DEAF), the Contemporary Music Centre and the Project Arts Centre are planning a special 60th birthday-concert in Dublin in October of this year which will premiere the composition. Doyle’s MySpace page is: myspace.com/rogerdoylemusic

Aloys Fleischmann Centenary 2010
The centenary of the birth of composer Aloys Fleischmann will be celebrated next year. Cork City Council has set up a committee to coordinate the events planned to commemorate the Irish composer, scholar, campaigner, organiser, conductor, professor of music and Freeman of the City of Cork.

The participation of fifty organisations is currently being negotiated, to include concerts and recitals, exhibitions, dance performances, broadcasts, conferences, public lectures, and a number of publications. The town of Dachau in Bavaria, from which the Fleischmann family came to Cork 130 years ago, will also celebrate its emigrant musician family.

The Fleischmann family invites anybody who knew, studied or worked with Aloys Fleischmann to participate in the planning of his centenary, for example, by performing a Fleischmann work, and welcomes other ideas and suggestions.

During the centenary, it is planned to make many of Fleischmann’s compositions freely available on the internet. An appeal is being made for assistance in creating Sibelius files, either in direct support or through sponsorship. Email maevefleischmann [at] eircom.net or visit tiny.cc/7n4E0

The Islands Tour
This April, violinist Darragh Morgan will tour the islands of Valencia (20th), Inis Mór (21st), Inishbofin (23rd) and Tory (25th) on the west coast of Ireland. The tour, which was originally planned for last October, will feature music for solo violin by Bach, Telemann, John Buckley, Bill Campbell, Michael Nyman and Philip Glass as well as traditional airs.

Speaking to The Journal of Music, Morgan explained his motivation for the tour: ‘I have always been fascinated by the islands of the west coast of Ireland since a childhood trip to Inis Mór. Their remote, bleak and austere character attracts me and a life-long ambition of mine has been to perform on the Aran Islands. This is really something I want to give back to the locals of these Islands, not the tourists.’

Admission to all events is free, with a voluntary retiring collection. darraghmorgan.com

Write for The Journal of Music
The Journal of Music is always seeking new work. Reviews, interviews, opinion or letters to the editor, The Journal of Music is open to all musical genres. Email editor [at] journalofmusic.com

Published on 1 April 2009

comments powered by Disqus