Carolan’s original harp bass

Carolan’s tunes had no base to them originally, as we have been informed by the late Keane Fitzgerald, a native of Ireland, and a good judge of music, who had often seen and heard old Carolan perform. It was only after his decease, in 1738, that his tunes were collected and set for the harpsichord, violin, and German flute, with a base, Dublin, folio, by his son, who published them in London by subscription, in 1747.

Abraham Rees, The Cyclopaedia; or, universal dictionary of arts, sciences and literature. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Brown, 1819. Volume 17, (unpaginated, under ‘Harp’)

One thought on “Carolan’s original harp bass”

  1. An earlier reporting of similar material but with less specific information is in a letter from the English musicologist, Charles Burney, written to Arthur Young in 1791:
    “Carolan, the celebrated modern Irish bard, played only the treble part of tunes” (cited in The Autobiography of Arthur Young: With Selections from His Correspondence, ed. Matilda Betham-Edwards, Cambridge 2012, p.200)

    The jumbled collection of information about ancient lyres, and historical and traditionary information about harps, is similar but not identical. I wonder if Burney fed the information to Rees, or if Burney had also had the same information independently from Keane Fitzgerald? And what about the strange thing about the “Irish harp” having so few strings? Are they getting confused by some English terminological mis-labelling, of something like the “Fairy Bells” zither?

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