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Music has been performed in oral tradition in Ireland now for some ten-thousand years, but it was 1724 before the first notated collection of Irish music appeared. Consisting of forty-nine tunes and far older than any surviving manuscript collection, “A Collection of the Most Celebrated Irish Tunes Proper for the Violin, German Flute or Hautboy” was published that year in the yard of Christ Church Cathedral in central Dublin by the musical-instrument makers John and William Neal, a father and son of obscure origins who dominated the Dublin music trade in the first half of the eighteenth century.

The famous blind harper Turlough Carolan, who composed several of the tunes, was alive at the time of their publication here, aged fifty-four. Many of the tunes reveal a sympathy with the defeated but still powerful Jacobite cause, surprising in a publication produced in the heart of ascendancy Dublin.

A new facsimile reprint of the Celebrated Irish Tunes has now been published by the Irish Traditional Music Archive. It has been made from the single surviving copy of the original publication, and it makes generally available again a collection of Irish traditional music that was current three hundred and more years ago, music that differs greatly from the Irish traditional music of today. A document of social and political significance, the collection is chiefly important as a foundation source of Irish music, offering insights into its distant past and providing melodies for modern re-creation and study.

The illustrated introduction and notes on the tunes by Nicholas Carolan, Director of the Irish Traditional Music Archive, contain new information on John and William Neal, the earliest important publishers of music in Ireland, and on the state of music in the capital and the country in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. As an aid towards the re-creation and understanding of the tunes in the collection, early Irish-language song texts have also been provided, with translations, for the some half of the tunes which are song airs rather than instrumental melodies.

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Permalink - Posted: September 30, 2010 at 10:45 am