On Saturday evening I will be at the botanic gardens here in St Andrews for an outside evening concert. I’ll have my 18th century Irish harp with me and will be playing a programme of “Carolan, Connellan & Lyons”.
The Downhill harp is loud and strident enough to work in an outdoors setting, and I am hoping that the elegant and sweet tunes from these three composers will complement the summer evening picnic ambience on the lawn of the gardens.
I am interested in these three composers as the finest exponents of the “Irish baroque”, a kind of fusion of the old native styles with the fashionable Italianate music that swept into Scotland and Ireland in the years around 1700.
In Ireland it was the harpers who embraced this new fashion, and Carolan and Lyons were right in there composing Italianate tunes or variation sets in full-on continental style, though always viewed through the prism of the old Gaelic performance traditions on the early Gaelic harp. Connellan, being that bit earlier, worked in a more traditional way though he can perhaps be seen as one of the earliest to compose the big 18th century irish “sean-nos” songs.
In Scotland, the few harpers that remained by 1700 did not engage with this Italian music fashion, and it was the fiddlers who were the most enthusiastic in developing the Scottish baroque style. James Oswald is perhaps the best known and most prolific, and I am using his delightful setting on one of Lyons’s tunes. Lyons called it “Miss Hamilton” after one of his patrons, but Oswald calls it “The blossom of the rasberry” which wonderfully fits our Botanic Garden theme. There is a lovely variation in Oswald’s set which may have come from Lyons but really sounds more like Oswald’s work.