• John McCabe
  • Irish Songbook Part 1 (1994)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by Claire-Louise Lucas and Jonathan Darnborough with the aid of funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain

  • pf
  • mezzo soprano
  • 25 min

Programme Note

The Nameless Doon (William Larminie)
In Ruin Reconciled (Aubrey De Vere)
Lullaby (W. B. Yeats)
The Mother (Padraic Pearse)
A White Rose (John Boyle O'Reilly)
A Question (J. M. Synge)

Irish Songbook is a collection of songs, not a formal cycle, commissioned, with the aid of funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain, by Claire-Louise Lucas and Jonathan Darnborough, and dedicated to them. When seeking texts for this commission, I intended originally to write either a cantata (continuous but in clearly defined sections) or a song-cycle with a specific unifying theme, but the more I read, the more I kept returning to Irish poetry, the vivid, powerful and immensely rich language of which is a constant source of inspiration.

So it seemed to me almost inevitable that I should embark on compiling a book of Irish songs, which will be an ongoing process - there are dozens more which I am eager to set. What does perhaps unify this set is the theme of time and memory - perhaps my initial impulse was especially influence by the death of my mother, at around the time I was defining my ideas for the work.

In Irish poetry, the most inspiring aspect for me is not that the words lead one to want to "pictorialise" the images musically, but rather that in every poem there is a powerful underlying atmosphere or feeling quite different to the superficial appearance of the words. For instance, The Nameless Doon seems to me to have a subliminal restlessness and subdued agitation, which led me to set it mostly at a quick tempo. Similarly, though Padraic Pearse's powerful poem The Mother is apparently triumphalist (at least in part), I felt an underlying questioning, almost subversion, of this aspect of the words.
© 1994 John McCabe