Sín síos agus suas liom

I made a demonstration video of a version of the tune of Sín síos agus suas liom. Bunting transcribed this version from the playing of an old Irish harper in the 1790s.

The transcription which I am following, is on Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29 pages 104/100/109/f49v. The tune is written at the bottom of the page, underneath the transcription of “Brough ne Shannon“. Bunting has titled our tune “Strech her Down and up”. In the margin he has written his brother’s name, “Anthony”.

The transcription is made from small ill-formed note heads, presumably originally the live transcription dots, which have been developed with stems and beams but no barlines. There are two grace-notes and three “+” marks written in. The rhythm and flow of the tune is fairly easy to reconstruct from this transcription, though some of the notes written as crotchets should obviously be minims at line-ends. At the very end of the tune we can see how underlying dots have been ignored and overwritten with an emphatic minim G to finish the tune.

The “Variation”

At the top of the facing page 105 Bunting has written a variant version of the tune, with the title “Variation”. Under the notation he has written (I think) “Variation an 8th lower”. This could be understood to be a division-style variation of the tune on the facing page 104, and following on from it in the original live harp performance, but I don’t think that is plausible mostly because of the way the two notations are written.

The variation on page 105 is written with note stems and beams, and without barlines. However, whereas the tune is developed from an inked dots original, the variation was originally written in grey pencil, which has been over-written in a heavier ink. The pencil notation is substantially the same as the later inked over-writing, having notes and beams but no barlines. At the very end of the variation we can see a few abandoned or deleted pencil dots. I think the title “Variation” was also originally written in pencil, and so too was the instruction at the bottom “Variation an 8th lower”. Bunting has subsequently inked in another “variation” title above the pencil, and another “an 8th” below the pencil instruction.

Do we understand the tune and variation to have been transcribed in one session, with Bunting discarding his pen and switching to pencil in the middle of the transcribing session? Or do we understand then to have been done quite separately on different occasions, from different informants? Could the variation even be Bunting’s own original piano composition, based on the transcribed tune?

Bunting has also added other “doodle” words to this page. Beneath the variation he writes words including “Marshall”, “Master”, “Mrs”, “Bermangham”, “Master Bunting”, “Anst[??]”, and “Edward Hullybeggs”. Note that the top right hand corner of page 105 is missing; there seems to be the remains of a word beside the tear, perhaps “A…” or perhaps “1…”. There is also a fragment of notation towards the bottom of page 105, but I don’t think it is connected to our tune. The notes are c” a’ a g’ e’ c’ d’ and then “8” (or perhaps “B”) presumably to show a bass note.

The other harp transcription

Bunting transcribed a different version of this tune from a different harper on a different date in the 1790s. You can see this other transcription on QUB SC MS4.29 page 163/161/170/f80r. Bunting’s title for this other transcription is “Sheen Shees igus swos lim” (a phonetical approximation of Sín síos agus suas liom). There is a heavily erased title as well, which I can’t read, though I think it begins “Sh…” Maybe when I get to that section of the manuscript I will do a demonstration of that version as well!

Mr. Abell’s words, c.1715

An much earlier printing of this tune from England is associated with the London singer, John Abell (1653-c.1724) who performed concerts of “Songs in Several Languages”. More information about these is at Jurgen Kloss’s website. Abell’s 1715 concert programme includes the lyrics of all the different songs he sang, including lyrics for our tune:

At about the same time, c.1714-15, a music sheet was published in London giving these same phonetic Irish words set to a version of our tune. (facsimile online at the QUB Irish Song Project). Breandán Breathnach printed a facsimile as well as a transcription, and a normalised Irish text and English translation, in ‘The first Irish song published’, Ceol vol 5 no. 1, July 1981:

Sín síos suas liom,
druid anall is fáisc mé.
Cóirigh leaba fúinn araon,
a Chumainn, croí na páirte.
Tá mo ghrá-sa súgach
tá sí lúfar láidir,
hey ho, rirko
Saor anois ón mbás mé.

Stretch down alongside me, move over and embrace me, make a bed for us both, my darling, my dearest. My love is joyous, she is swift and strong, hey ho rirko, save me now from death

Another printing of Abell’s tune and words together is in The Merry Musician… (1716), p.327328.

I wonder if Abell’s lyrics are a genuine traditional song, or if they are a scurrilous version provided to him tongue-in-cheek? Judging by his other songs he had no knowledge of the Irish language and was using this song for exotic colour in his international concert programme.

The Neal printed version, 1724

A version of our tune was published in Neal’s Celebrated Irish Tunes (1724) no.25, p.17, titled “Sheen sheesh igus souse lum”.

Bunting had access to a copy of Neal’s printed book, and he copied the tune into one of his collecting pamphlets, at QUB SC MS4.29 page 205/203/212/f101r. His title there is “Sheen Sheesse”.

This copy that Bunting wrote is part of a pair of tunes copied from Neal on p.205. Bunting also copied the Neal title page on page 209. I don’t understand at present how this group of pages relates to the other group of tunes copied from Neal into QUB SC MS4.29 p.6777 Its possible that pages 205 and 209 originally were together and connected to pages 67-77 before the separate pamphlets were bound into the composite manuscript book (see my MS4.29 index and collation PDF). If they were originally all copied together, it must have been done before October 1794 when Bunting acquired his own, better, copy of Neal, and so presumably the copying was done in the summer of 1792.

Bunting tells us that he did this kind of copying so that he could take printed versions of tunes out with him, to compare with what the harpers were playing.

Edward Bunting’s piano arrangements

Bunting made a number of manuscript and printed piano arrangements. I have not seen all of them, but as far as I can tell they are all derived from the Neal print, with some minor changes to bars 3-6.

QUB SC MS4.33.2 p.12 (manuscript piano arrangement made in 1798)
“Sion sios agus suas liom = or stretch up and down with me”
“From Dennis a Hempson Hugh Higgins & Mrs Bristow who was taught it by Dominick Mungan”

QUB SC MS4.13 f35r (manuscript piano arrangement made c.1830s?)
“Sion sios agus swosslem. Stretch up and down”
“From Donald Black the harper in 1796”
(I have not seen this; the incipit is given in Colette Moloney, Introduction and Catalogue p.256)

QUB SC MS4.27 f45v (manuscript piano arrangement made c.1830s?)
“Sion Sios agus Swoss Liom”
“From Daniel Black the harper at Glenoaks near Antrim in 1796”
(I have not seen this but content in ms27 is often similar to ms13)

Edward Bunting, The Ancient Music of Ireland (Dublin 1840) no.38, p.30. (printed piano arrangement)
“Down beside me”
The index p.viii gives “D. Black Harper 1796” as the source for the tune.

Attributions to named harpers

So, we have four different attribution tags in these piano arrangements, and we don’t believe any of them refer to the tune which was arranged and published. But we can try to use them to see if we can associate any of them with any of our three different transcription notations in MS4.29.

We have Denis O’Hampsey (presumably in either 1792 or 1796); we have Donald Black in 1796; we have Hugh Higgins (presumably in 1792, since he died in ’96); and we have “Mrs Bristow who was taught it by Dominick Mungan”.

Mrs Bristow is the most enigmatic of these names. Colette’s index of Bunting’s manuscripts lists only two appearances of her name (mis-spelled as “Mrs. Brislow”), one being this piano arrangement at QUB SC MS4.33.2 p.12, and the other being on QUB SC MS4.29 p.97. That page contains a live transcription of the tune of An gearrán buidhe; we can check my tune list spreadsheet to see that the tune is tagged as a Higgins tune, and its title also appears in a Black tune list. Beneath the transcription Bunting has been scribbling names and words: “Bunting / Mrs. Bristow / M[a]r M[aa] / Master Dublin / Mr[] Da[rh]et / [????]hart”. As you can see I can’t make much sense of this.

The mention of Mrs Bristow in MS4.33.2 p.12 says she was “taught it by Dominick Mungan”. In the 1840 introduction p.98, Bunting lists our tune: “sios agus suas liom. Down beside me…. set here as taken from the performance of Dominic Mungan the celebrated harper, the father of Bishop Warberton”.

Mungan was born around 1715; Arthur O’Neill in his Memoirs (QUB SC MS4.14 p29) says he was from County Tyrone, and blind from birth. He is said to have been the composer of the song An bhfaca tú mo valentine? and as Bunting mentions, one of his sons became a bishop. Mungan seems to have died before 1792, since Bunting did not meet him. He gives a brief biography in the 1840 introduction p.74.

The implication here is that Mrs Bristow transcribed the tune from the playing of Mungan some time before 1792, and gave Bunting the transcription. Or perhaps Bunting copied Mrs Bristow’s manuscript into one of his own books. It is also possible (though it seems less likely to me) that Mrs Bristow learned the tune, and then sang it (or played it on fiddle or flute or piano or something) to Bunting for him to make a live transcription of her performance.

If we could find out more about Mrs Bristow, this would help us understand this process! There is a Miss Bristow who was on the organising committee of the Belfast meeting of the harpers in 1792 (Fox, Annals p.99) – is there a connection?

There are also tune lists which mention our title. A tune list on MS4.29 p.84 includes the title “Sheen Sheess egus Suous Lim stretch her Down and up with me var:”. This tune list has some overlaps with a much shorter list on p.79 which is marked “from Hugh Higgins”. But I don’t know how to understand these. Does this mean that the variation on p.105 is transcribed from Higgins? Probably not.

Is it possible to assign one of the four sources, to each of the three transcriptions? One way to do this is to look at the writing style; another is to look at what is on adjacent pages using the tune list.

We have the harp transcription I am demonstrating, on p.104; we have the variation on p.105; and we have the other harp transcription on p.163.

Is my version (p.104) from Black? There are a couple of other possible Black tunes nearby. But it can be dangerous because circular reasoning can grow these groups based on mere speculation.

Is the other harp version (p.163) from Hempson? There are other Hempson transcriptions nearby, but also other possible Higgins transcriptions.

Is the variation (p.105) from Mrs Bristow? Would that explain why it is done in pencil, unlike the live harp transcriptions which are almost always done in pen and ink dots?

These are all wild guesses.

Why did Bunting give us misleading information about the sources of his tunes? Perhaps he didn’t care about the tradition, about different variants from different harpers with different lineages. He was just looking for a single version that was “best” according to his classical piano aesthetic. For Bunting, I think the harpers and their traditions may often have been just a bit of “local colour” to give his classical piano arrangements some sniff of authenticity.

One thought on “Sín síos agus suas liom”

  1. Abell’s other Irish song text “O Rodrimindo…” is given with normalised Irish text and translation as Appendix 2 of Nicholas Carolan’s edition of Neal (ITMA 2010), p.104.

    It is the song “Druimin Dubh”; there is a transcription in QUB MS4.29 part 2, on p.135 and another version of the tune on p.137. See Donal O’Sullivan (1983) p.63-64 (MOSB 42) for more references.

    I am not planning to go through part 2 of MS4.29 in this project because I don’t think these are harp transcriptions, I think they were transcribed from singers in Mayo in the summer of 1792. Note how they are done in pencil, with heavy ink over-writing, just like the “variation” on p.105

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.