By Susan Wilzer
General: Here are some notes about the tunes. Most of the notations indicate the source of the information on the Internet. Most of the information is well-established and I just tried to find a concise summary statement. In some cases I have given an indication of the source (WIKI for Wikipedia) or a link. My own comments are followed by (SGW). Tune Backgrounds can be useful in introducing your tunes if you ever play for others formally or informally. Having the words to a song can help with playing to find the most appropriate phrasing or “feel” of the tune.
Major sources of Irish tunes for harp include the playing of Turlough O’Carolan and the music collections of Edward Bunting. In older music, the Playford collections of English Country Dance tunes is a valuable resource. A brief description of these resources is given here and can be applied to all the tunes labeled O’Carolan, Bunting or Playford as appropriate.
Turlough O’Carolan (also seen as Carolan): (1670 – 25 March 1738) was a blind early Irish harper, composer and singer whose great fame is due to his gift for melodic composition.
He is considered by many to be Ireland's national composer. Harpers in the old Irish tradition were still living as late as 1792, as ten, including Arthur O'Neill, Patrick Quin and Donnchadh Ó Hámsaigh, showed up at the Belfast Harp Festival, but there is no proof of any of these being composers. Ó Hámsaigh did play some of Carolan's music but disliked it for being too modern. Some of O'Carolan's own compositions show influence from the style of continental classical music, whereas others such as Carolan's Farewell to Music reflect a much older style of "Gaelic Harping" (WIKI).
Edward Bunting (1773-1843) was an organist in Belfast. He was the most important collector of old Gaelic harp music, because he wrote down tunes and information direct from the playing of the last of the old Gaelic harpers.
In 1792, Bunting was commissioned by the organisers of the Belfast harpers’ meeting (commonly known now as the Belfast Harp Festival), to write down the old Irish tunes played by the harpers. He was so intrigued by the music played by these elderly harpers that he spent a lot of the rest of his life collecting tunes and information from them across Ireland. (Text edited)
Bunting also wrote down a lot of background information from the harpers, some of it scribbled in the margins of his field notebooks, some in the form of letters and other documents. (Text edited) Simon Chadwick
For more information about Bunting and early Gaelic harp click here.
Playford The Dancing Master (first edition: The English Dancing Master) is a dancing manual containing the music and instructions for English Country Dances. It was published in several editions by John Playford and his successors from 1651 until c1728. The first edition contained 105 dances with single line melodies; subsequent editions introduced new songs and dances, while dropping others, and the work eventually encompassed three volumes (WIKI). The tunes in Playford were the popular dance tunes and eclectic, including tunes popular all over the British Isles and a few from other countries such as France (SGW).