Of all the countries in the world, Ireland possesses the most varied and beautiful folk music.
Sir Arnold Bax, composer (1883-1953)
The repertoire of traditional Irish music is widely regarded as one of the richest and most beautiful in the world. It consists of a vast range of melodies of unusual diversity, which broadly speaking can be divided into two categories; slow airs and dance music. The slow airs are often reflective and even melancholic in character and almost always have words, originally in Gaeilge (Gaelic, the Irish language), but increasingly in English during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Irish poets, writing in either Irish or English frequently sought to match their verses to well-known tunes and consequently the melodies are often known by several names.
The dance tunes display a dazzling variety of rhythmic motif and style. Amongst the most popular forms are the jig of the single, double, and slip variety, the reel, the hornpipe, the polka, and the slide. Other dances such as the strathspey, quadrille, mazurka, and waltz have also been assimilated into the Irish tradition.
The question as to what constitutes an Irish melody has been much discussed, but is somewhat outside the scope of this introduction. Essential elements however include the rhythmic patterns of the various dances, a highly developed style of ornamentation and the tonality of the music. Traditional Irish melodies are for the most part modal in tonality, the standard minor scale of European art music being extremely rare. By far the most common modes are the C mode (Ionian), D mode (Dorian), G mode (Mixolydian), and A mode (Aeolian). All modes of course can be transposed to start on any note. The absence of particular notes (usually the 4th or 7th) within these modes in certain melodies can also furnish a particular inflection and tonal character.
The harping tradition in Ireland, which dates back at least a thousand years, stands somewhat apart from the folk-music of the common people. The status of the harper in early Gaelic society was like that of the bardic poets, extremely high. Poet and harper were next in rank only to the chieftain and patronage from the Gaelic aristocracy was readily available.
The best-known representative of the harping tradition is Turlough Carolan (also known as Turlough O'Carolan, Irish: Toirdhealbhach Ó Cearbhalláin, 1670-1738), who composed a large body of very distinctive melodies, over two hundred of which are preserved. Most of Carolan's melodies were composed for his patrons and almost all bear the name of the dedicatee e.g. Bridget Cruise, Lord Inchiquin and a very beautiful melody Eleanor Plunkett, which is track three on this CD. Carolan was familiar with the music of the Italian Baroque, in particular that of Corelli, Vivaldi and Geminiani, and the style of his compositions combines elements of the baroque and the Irish folk-music of the time. Carolan is regarded as the last of the great harper/composers, a late and astonishing flowering of a tradition that was already beginning to die out. Carolan's melodies and those of the other harpers are now entirely assimilated and regarded as an essential component of Irish traditional music.
Though thousands of Irish melodies are now available in printed collections, the tradition was and remains primarily an oral and aural one. Tunes are passed from generation to generation both within individual families and the broader community.
Irish folk-music is very much a living tradition with a world-wide following. It is in a constant state of renewal and reinterpretation and we hope that this CD will add to the development of the tradition. This is not a traditional album in the conventional sense of the term. The arrangements fuse the traditional melodies with elements of baroque and classical styles. The arrangements incorporate techniques such as modulation, countermelody, development, variation, cadenza-like passages, chromatic harmony and counterpoint, but always keep the melodies in the foreground. The arrangements are as varied and diverse as the melodies themselves and range from the straightforward to the highly developed and elaborate.
All the arrangements on this CD are based on the best-known versions of the melodies in current circulation. With such an enormous wealth from which to choose, William Dowdall and I used two simple considerations for the selection: melodies we both loved and with a view to creating a sense of balance and contrast between the slow airs and the dance music. They are all melodies that we have grown up with and that have formed part of our musical consciousness from early childhood.
Dublin, September 2011
Music Director & Arranger for this recording
Rock of Cashel, Cahir, County Tipperary, Ireland (Photography by Ed Freeman)
Irish flautist William “Bill” Dowdall has lived a very varied musical career. Born in Dublin in 1951, he became Principal Flute of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra at the age of 22 and then was Principal Flute of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland for 25 years. He has performed as a soloist in Europe, U.S.A., Asia, Australia and New Zealand and is a much sought-after teacher and performer. He is currently Professor of Flute at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin.
His repertoire ranges from J. S. Bach to the most complex of contemporary works. In this recording he returns to his roots as his first professional engagement was in Dugan’s Irish Pub in the Flats in Cleveland, Ohio. Hubert “Iggy” Reynolds heard him playing in the Cleveland Fèis (Fèiseanna are traditional Gaelic song & dance festivals) and invited him down to Dugan’s to “play a few tunes”.
The “few tunes” turned into a long-standing engagement and a collaboration with Sean Moore and put William“Kevin” (Iggy changed his name from Bill to Kevin as he thought Bill wasn’t Irish enough) Dowdall through music school at the Cleveland Institute of Music where he studied with Maurice Sharp, the renowned Principal Flute of the Cleveland Orchestra.
Dowdall was included on a CD of Irish culture presented to Her Majesty Elizabeth II and President Obama on their visits to Ireland. He performed John Buckley’s Constellations for multiple flutes with pre-recorded backing track. He has recorded as a solo artist for Celestial Harmonies, Atoll, and Naxos and his recordings have received critical acclaim internationally.
This recording acknowledges the deep gratitude he feels towards Sean and Iggy and is dedicated to their memory.
In addition, we were very fortunate to have the services of some of Ireland’s finest musicians on this recording: The Dublin String Quartet, concert harpist Andrea Maliř, Irish harpist Anne-Marie O’Farrell, violist Lisa Dowdall, percussionist Noel Eccles and singer Jimmy Kelly (brother of the deceased singer and musician Luke Kelly who was a member of The Dubliners, Ireland’s most famous folk group for almost half a century).
William Dowdall can also be heard on these recordings:
Celestial Harmonies 13253-2
IN WINTER LIGHT: Music for Flute and Guitar by John Buckley
William Dowdall & John Feeley
Celestial Harmonies 13244-2