The Fairie Round - Liner Notes

Fairie Round - Liner Notes

According to Timothy Britton, one of the best Irish uillean (elbow) bagpipe players around, the title of the ancient march Chanter's Tune refers to the part of the pipes on which the melody is played. It lends itself very well to the oboe, which is rather like a bagpipe chanter. The harp part is done in an African style, which I learned from German harper Rudiger Opperman.

According to John Dowland (see below, Come Again), Anthony Holborne (1584-1602), who composed mainly dances, was a "Gentleman usher" to Queen Elizabeth I. The Fairie-Round is from Pavans, Galliards, Almains and other short Aeirs from viols, violins, or other Musicall Wind Instruments (1599); I heard it played on recorders by David Munrow. The rhythm changes back and forth between 3/4 and 6/8.

The Water Is Wide is probably best known from the version collected by Cecil Sharp in Somerset, to which he gave the title O Waly Waly. The version I like best is by Karla Bonoff with James Taylor. The first verse goes:

The water is wide, I can't get o'er
And neither have I wings to fly
Give me a boat that can carry two
And both shall row, my love and I.

All the dances of the 13th and 14th centuries belong to one main type, known as the estampie. It is characterized by a form consisting of sections, called punctus, each of which is repeated, with a different ending for the repetition. I found this 13th century English dance in the Historical Anthology of Music.

The Clergyman's Lament may be by Carolan (see notes on the planxties below) -- it resembles in style some of his slow tunes. Thus Donal O'Sullivan included it in his book Carolan: The Life and Times of an Irish Harper; I learned it from Sylvia Woods' book.

The words to The Ashgrove (Llwyn On) are in Welsh, but there are several translations. Debra Spencer, an alto and English teacher, prefers this version:

The ashgrove how graceful, how plainly 'tis speaking,
The harp thro' it playing has language for me;
Whenever the light thro' its branches is breaking,
A host of kind faces is gazing on me.
The friends of my childhood again are before me,
Each step wakes a mem'ry, as freely I roam,
With soft whispers lade, its leaves rustle o'er me,
The ashgrove, the ashgrove alone is my home.

Gabriel Pierné (1863-1937) studied with César Franck and was an organist. His Pastorale, originally composed for piano, is the first piece in his Album pour mes petits amis, Opus 14, published in 1887, a collection dedicated to several children of the LeDuc family. He was fond of pastoral themes; this work is reminiscent of shepherds' pipes, especially in the dialogue between oboe and flute.

A kopanitsa (this one is Macedonian) is a dance in 11/16 time, but I like to think of it in 5, with the middle third beat long, i.e., deet-deet-deeda-deet-deet. Trugnal Momko is a Bulgarian song (in 7) for three women's voices, played by oboes in this version. The song tells of a young hunter's encounter with a beautiful country girl. The translation is:

A young man set out hunting. Across his path walked a young girl. (Set an eagle loose among the doves). He put his arm round her waist and it seemed to him like reeds growing out of the lake. He looked at her fair face and it seemed to him like an apple growing in the garden. He kissed her honey lips and they seemed to him like good three-year-old wine.

I learned these tunes from two members of the Santa Cruz-based ensemble Medna Usta, Anne Cleveland and Ruth Hunter, who play with me here.

Irish harper and composer Turlough O'Carolan (1670-1738) was blinded by smallpox at the age of 18, apprenticed to a harper, and at 21 began his career as an itinerant musician, playing in the homes of the gentry throughout Ireland. The tunes he wrote and named for his patrons, such as Burke and Drew, were called planxties.

When G.F. Handel (1685-1759) was 25 he was appointed court conductor in Hanover, but displeased his patron by taking long leaves of absence to London. When his master was proclaimed George I of England, it is said that Handel restored himself to favor by composing a suite for wind instruments, eventually published as Water Music, to be played as a surprise for the new monarch during a boating party on the Thames.

Bonnie Prince Charlie Stuart fought against the British for the crown of Scotland, but was defeated on Culloden Moor in 1745, escaping to the Isle of Skye in the inner Hebrides. I learned Skye Boat Song, whose refrain is "Carry the lad that's born to be king over the sea to Skye" from an old record that my parents had of the pipes and drums of the Black Watch.

Come Again is from English lutenist John Dowland's (1562-1626) First Book of Songes or Ayres of Foure Parts with tableture for the Lute, a very popular book in its time. The words to the first verse are:

Come again, sweet love doth now invite
Thy graces that refrain to do me due delight.
To see, to hear, to touch, to kiss, to die,
With thee again in sweetest sympathy.

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