Mrs. Anne MacDermot Roe

Edward Bunting made what looks like a live field transcription of a tune titled “Mrs McDermottroe” or “Nanny O Donnely” on p. 18/18/27/f8v of Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections MS4.29. Bunting made an edited neat copy on the facing page, and he published a piano arrangement in his 1797 book (No.53, Anna ni ciarmuda ruaidh / Nanny McDermotroe / Carolan). There don’t appear to be any independent variants of this tune, so the only way to understand it is to analyse Bunting’s very unsatisfactory notations.

Carolan’s patron at Alderford was Mary née FitzGerald (c. 1660-1739), wife of Henry Baccach MacDermot Roe (c. 1645-1715). Their oldest son, Henry (d.1752), married Anne, daughter of Manus O’Donnell of Newport, Co. Mayo, and I assume that this Anne is the person whose name is referred to in Bunting’s manuscript and printed titles: Nanny O’Donnell, whose married name was Anna MacDermot Roe.

Donal O’Sullivan includes this tune in his Carolan and his Bunting; we can use his numbers to refer to this tune (DOSB 53) (DOSC 82). O’Sullivan connects the tune to a song-poem, which seems to be a wedding song addressed to Anna when she married Henry. The song does seem to share meter and structure with the tune, and so I think in this case we can accept Donal O’Sullivan’s suggestion.

There are two independent versions of the the song lyric. One version (QUB SC MS4.10 p. 33/41-34/42) was collected from oral tradition by Patrick Lynch on his tour of Mayo in the summer of 1802. Lynch’s title is “Madam McDermud Roe” and his text reads:

(p.33)
Toig do mhion.. & seol do chiall
mar ordaigeas dia.. dean dreacht is dáin
agus labhuir do mhian… dar an og-mnaoi sgiamhach
do shliucht na Niall.. is riogha fail

brón no tuirse… riamh ni roibh na haice
is fior gur deas. a piob is a leaca
Anna nín Mhánuis… sár mhac Rudhruigh
an ard fhlaith cluiteach.. nach ndiultadh a nglea

Ni breag a dubhairt me fan thrathsa
le geug na lub sna bhfainneadh
gur geaneamhuil a suil.. a déad sa cúl
is leir liom sud.. gur sugach a glóir

Is gurab aoibhin.. don oigfhear críonna
fhantaigh inghion na scoirbhriathar saimh
Ta si momhar caoidheamhuil ceol mhar saoidheamhuil
blath geal deas dílios gach uair is gac am

(p34)
Hanrai mhac searlus se tá me radha
dar dual bheith treigheach ae arach tapuigh
aithnighean a mhion ag an ti da mbiadh se
is eol don tír a ghniomh gur breagh e

da mbiadh fíon an mo laimh se
doluinn fein do shlainte
go mbeannuigh dia an dis se anna & heanrai
lastar a piopa & liontar a dram

A similar version of six stanzas is printed in Tomás Ó Máille’s Amhráin Chearbhalláin (1916) p.130-131, edited there from two related versions in RIA ms 23A1 and 23I8, which contain poems written down by “Daniel Malone, a schoolmaster,who travelled through the counties of Leitrim, Roscommon, etc., in the years 1827 and 1828 and collected all these songs from the recital of the people” (AC p.46). Ó Máille says (p.289) that “the melody is given by O Neill, Music of Ireland, p,118”. This version seems to be a slightly garbled and slightly more classical adaption of Bunting’s piano setting, with the intrusive f sharps, and the substiution of bars 13 and 14 with material repeated from 9 and 10.

The tune seems to have three sections, each of eight bars; We can suppose that each bar of the tune would take half a line of the poem, so that three verses of the poem would fit the whole tune; the six verses noted by Lynch would fit onto two repetitions of the air.

The main problem with the tune of Anna MacDermot Roe is the key and the accidentals. Bunting’s live field transcription from the tradition-bearer on p.18 is noted at pitch in A minor. In bar 6, the tune seems to pass through F, but the transcription is ambiguous, and the note head is positioned slightly above the line, and could be read as either F or G. In bar 11, the F is clearly noted and is marked with a ♯ in the transcription. There is an f in bar 12, but it is not marked with an accidental – should we assume it is also f♯? In bar 13 there are two fs, as the musical line ascends and descends. Again neither is marked with an accidental. The ascending one is clearly notated, but the descending one is deliberately elongated as if it has been changed from f to g (or from g to f).

In the third section of Bunting’s live transcription, it all goes horribly wrong. Bunting has not inserted bar-lines into the notation after the first two lines, which is often a sign that he no longer believes in what he has written. Bunting starts the third line by apparently transposing his notation down a 4th, so that he writes the first note of this line as g, when we expect it to be c. This is confirmed, as the ascending passage g a b c♯ d shows an accidental sign on the c (we would expect to see c d e f♯ g). After the first two bars, he goes back to notating at pitch in A minor, by writing high c. In the 5th bar of this section, we again have f, without an accidental. In bar 7 the notation comes to a stop.

The fourth line of Bunting’s live transcription represents him trying again to notate the third part of the tune. This time he has transposed his notation down a 5th, so that he starts by writing f, and he writes the ascending sequence f g a b c. He continues to notate the whole of the third section of the tune at this new pitch level. In bar 5, the “questionable note” is now transposed to b, without an accidental mark; but he has also written a note a 3rd lower, g, lined up with the b, as if he was unsure which should be right.

Bunting made a neat copy of the tune on the facing page, p.19. I assume that he wrote this based on the previous live transcription; however it is possible that the two notations were the other way around. We know that Bunting sometimes copied tunes neatly into ms29 from printed books or from other manuscript sources, and he mentions that his collecting tours were at least partly for “comparing the music already procured, with that in possession of harpers”. So, it seems possible that the p.19 neat copy was copied into the little loose-leaf pamphlet out of a printed or manuscript tune-book, and then later when he was out with a tradition-bearer and heard their version, he tried to notate their version on the previous page to capture the differences. I don’t know how likely that is in this case, because the neat copy is very close to the the transcription. At the moment I am working on the assumption that the p.19 neat copy is derived from the p.18 transcription.

The neat copy shows some interesting changes from the transcription. The neat copy is set in D minor, the same as the final line of the transcription. Although there is (as usual) no key- or time-signature, Bunting marks some of the b notes as b♮, implying a key signature of one flat. The 1797 printed piano arrangement follows the ms29 neat copy closely, except the tune is transposed into G minor with two flats; the E is marked natural in the same places as the Bs in the ms29 neat copy, except for bars 12 and 13, where the neat copy doesn’t show accidentals and the piano print does. Are we to assume the naturals in the neat copy?

In any case, this switching between sharpened to flattened 6ths in the minor scale seems to me to be an interesting and curious thing. Is it connected to Bunting’s process of listening to the tunes with a classically-trained piano ear? Can he not help himself but to add in accidentals? Or, is this something that could come from within the Irish oral tradition?

It seems to me that there are three possibilities for reconstructing Anna MacDermot Roe.

  1. We could consider the transcription as being noted from instrumental harp performance, played on the harp in A minor, with the harp tuned with f♯. All of the fs in the tune would be played sharp, although there are places (bar 6, 13, 21) where we could omit the f♯ and play another note suggested by the transcription (g in bars 6 & 13, d in bar 21). We would pass lightly over the f♯ in bar 21, and we could suppose that Bunting only indicated the ♯ accidental where it struck his classically-trained ear as unusually prominent and distinctive.
  2. We could consider the transcription as being noted from instrumental harp performance, played on the harp in A minor, with the harp tuned with f♮. All of the fs in the tune would be played natural, and we would explain the ♯ accidentals in the transcription as being inserted by Edward Bunting as part of his editorial process to “correct” or “normalise” the tune for publication.
  3. We could understand the transcription as being a fair representation of performance, including the sharp and flat 6ths. Obviously this would not be a harp performance, since the old Irish harp does not give the possibility of having sharpened and flattened versions of the same note, and so we can imagine this as a sung performance.

The only metadata we have for the transcription is a tag in the annotated copy of the 1797 printed piano arrangement (London, British Library Add ms 41508, where the tune is tagged “Harp Mooney”, suggesting that the tune was notated from the harp playing of Rose Mooney. These tags were likely written in by Edward Bunting in the early 1840s, almost 50 years after the transcriptions were made, so I don’t know how much weight we can put on them.

If we look at my tune list spreadsheet, we can see that Ann MacDermot Roe is not closely associated with a group of transcriptions. In the previous gathering there are two Carolan tunes that are notated similarly, with dots on the left page and a neat copy on the right page, Planxty Drury and Planxty Kelly. Both are tagged “Byrne” in the annotated 1797, but both are notated one note higher than we expect, which mitigates against Mrs MacDermotroe being associated with them. There are other “mixed pitch level” tunes in the same gathering and after Anna MacDermot Roe, and there is also the Rambling Boy which is later tagged Charles Byrne, and which appears to be a vocal setting.

Charles Byrne was not a very good harper, but he was praised for his singing and Bunting says he got a lot of songs from him. Should we understand the transcription of Anna MacDermot Roe to be noted down from Charles Byrne singing the song? Did Byrne get to the third section and realise he had pitched his voice too high, and switch down to a more comfortable lower pitch level, confusing poor Bunting?

We can also use this transcription to think about issues of tune transmission. Anna MacDermot Roe does not fit very easily into the pentatonic modes of traditional old Irish harp music, but many of Carolan’s tunes break the traditional rules or systems. Does this unease about the nature of the 6th in this minor mode tune reflect Carolan’s grappling with baroque/classical sounds from within old Irish harp tradition? Or does it reflect ambiguity in oral tradition as the tune and the song were passed down the three generations or so between the wedding and the transcription?

My header image shows an old map of Greyfield House, near Keadue, where Henry and Anna lived.

Old Irish harp transcriptions project

I first got hold of a facsimile of Bunting ms29 (Queens University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4/29) when it was first published online at QUB Library web site, back in 2006, and I have been working from the facsimile ever since.

This manuscript, dating from the late 18th century to the beginning of the 19th century, is the most important single source for old Irish harp repertory. In it, the young collector Edward Bunting wrote his live field transcriptions of the performances of the last of the old Irish harpers. These scratchy incomplete jottings are our most direct connection to the now lost tradition of playing the old Irish harp with brass wire strings. There are many other sources of old Irish and Scottish Gaelic harp repertory, but most are second-hand, re-set for piano, fiddle, or other instruments. The great value of ms29 is the transcriptions live from performance.

Manuscript 29 is not easy to use, because it is written so fast and sketchily. I also started wondering about the lack of metadata in the manuscript – most of the tunes are not tagged with the names of informants, places, or dates, and this information has to be inferred from other sources. Many tunes are written without their title, or with the titles of different tunes written around them. And there are a lot of tunes – I counted 212 different tunes in the manuscript in total, of which about 190 appear to be represented by field transcriptions.

Back in September I started making a transcript of the textual content of Bunting ms29 (Queens University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4/29). This was prompted by a discussion with Siobhán Armstrong, who had started to inspect the binding of the manuscript and had noted where the different gatherings joined together. I started wondering how this structure of gatherings fitted with the content, whether groups of tunes fitted into discrete gatherings, and so I started to compile an index of what was on which page. The project grew and I ended up trying to copy all of the text on every page, and to identify the tune represented in every bit of music notation.

Identifying the tunes has been the hardest part, and is still not complete. My transcript still has many “unidentified tune” tags in it. Hopefully over time we will find identifications for more of these tunes.

You can download my ms29 text transcript and tune identification (PDF or ODT) via my Bunting pages. As I add more information or correct errors, I will update the document.

Making this document is in some ways an end in itself, as it forms a very useful guide to reading and working with the manuscript; it also forms a much more complete index than has been available so far. I have relied heavily on the published work of Donal O’Sullivan and Colette Moloney (both cited fully on the PDF). It is the nature of scholarship to build on and improve the work of previous generations, and I am very grateful for the important work that O’Sullivan and Moloney have done; I would not have got this far without their work.

I think that the value of ms29 was always the transcriptions: the first, quick, instinctive response of the listener to the performance. I have said before that I consider these transcriptions the 18th century equivalent of 20th century field audio-recordings. They are our window into a lost performance tradition.

My ms29 document aims to identify these transcriptions, and to distinguish transcriptions from secondary copies. The manuscript contains a number of tunes copied from printed books, and probably also from older manuscripts. These copied notations naturally don’t give us the direct connection to oral performance traditions that the transcriptions do.

I have become fascinated by the idea of working from transcriptions. To get a replica of an old Irish harp, to string it with brass wire, and tune it following the 18th century tuning schedules, to hold it in the posture and orientation shown in the 18th and early 19th century portraits of old Irish harpers – these methods take us close to the world of the old Irish harpers. And then to play the notes written in the transcription – no more, no less, gives us a sniff of their performance on that day in the 1790s.

My project now, I think, is to identify as many transcriptions as I can, and then to start describing, categorising, and analysing them. There are transcriptions of old Irish harp performances in other manuscripts in the Bunting Collection, especially in QUB MS4/33(1). I wonder if there are any transcriptions like this anywhere else? Was Edward Bunting the only person to do this?

I am thinking that as well as identifying the “normalised” tune titles for them, I can try and find other information about these tunes. Elsewhere in Bunting’s piano manuscripts he tells us who and when he collected tunes from. Can we match versions of tunes in piano arrangements, with the same version in a transcription? Can we group the transcriptions according to this kind of metadata, to understand who the transcriptions were collected from, where and when?

By combining this aggregated metadata with an analysis of the manuscript structure I think we may be able to build up a fine-grained picture of the collecting process and the performing style of different informants.

And we can also use this new insight into the nature and importance of the transcriptions to create new performances on old Irish harp, hoping to get ever closer to a plausible way of returning the old Irish harp to the tradition.

The video below shows me playing Casadh an tSúgáin (DOSB 19), from the transcription and copy on ms29 pages 4/4/13/1v – 5/5/14/2r, on the copy of the NMI Carolan harp.

Playing the harp in the Linen Hall Library

Yesterday I was at the Linen Hall Library in Belfast, for the conference or colloquium, A Celebration of The Beath Collection and the Bicentennial of the Irish Harp Society (1819-39)

The organiser, Lily Neill, had asked me to play some old Irish harp tunes to tie in with the music manuscripts and the early 19th century documents relating to the Irish Harp Society.

I took the new reconstruction copy of the NMI Carolan harp, which was delivered to me in Kilkenny by harpmaker Pedro Ferreira less than four weeks ago. So, this was the new harp’s first public engagement!

I played a couple of tunes I had found in the Collection, and some tunes associated with Irish Harp Society students Matthew Wall and Patrick Byrne.

Here is the full line-up for the day:

3:30pm-4:00pm
Dr. Mary Louise O’Donnell – “The Bengal Subscription and the Irish-Indian Connection”
Frank Bunting – “Edward Bunting’s Kilmore Parish Connections”

5:15pm-6:15pm
Philip McDonagh – “Do you remember Sinclair Stevenson? Reflections on the Irish Missionary Tradition in India”
Lily Neill – “The Emergence of the Lever Harp”

6:30pm-7:00pm
Simon Chadwick – “The Old Irish Harp”
Nicholas Carolan – “Some Irish Traditional Music Finds in the Beath Collection”

Mary Louise O’Donnell
Frank Bunting
Philip McDonagh
Lily Neill
Me with the new harp
Nicholas Carolan
Conference attendees discussing items from the Beath Collection on display

My header image shows a fragment of a manuscript which I played in my concert, from the Collection: Box 4, appendix 1, no.8

Examples of Irish Melody

In my book Progressive Lessons, I included a full size full colour facsimile of Edward Bunting’s loose sheet titled “Examples of Irish Melody”. These settings of the three beginners’ tunes are interestingly different from the ones we have from Denis O’Hampsey and Patrick Quin, and I have been using them more and more in my teaching.

It is very interesting to work through these settings with complete beginners in my classes, as well as discussing the implications with my established students. It really feels like a proper system for playing the Irish harp in the old Gaelic tradition is starting to emerge.

Continue reading Examples of Irish Melody

The Cambridge 48 – an early 17th century composition

“But Cambridge forty-eight, for many years, was the greatest peal that was rang or invented” (Tintinnalogia p.2)

In Duckworth’s Tintinnalogia, published in 1668, he gives the full text of “three old peals on five bells, which (though rejected in these days yet) in former times were much in use” (p.15-17). I am interested in these three as rare testimony of the state of change ringing in its true infancy in the early to mid 17th century.

Continue reading The Cambridge 48 – an early 17th century composition

Carlione

Looking through the books from the Jimmy Shand Collection in Dundee library for a tune to play on Saturday week at the free community concert in Dundee, I noticed “Carlione a Favourite Irish Tune” in Neil Gow’s third collection (1792). It is Dr John Stafford, or Carolan’s Receipt (no. 161 in Donal O’Sullivan’s index).

Whether or not I’lI get it up and running to play in two weeks time, it got me thinking about tunes titled with strange variants of Carolan’s name.

Continue reading Carlione

The Banks of Claudy

Edward Bunting‘s first field notebook, which he used to take down live transcriptions from the old harpers in 1792 and later, is kept at Queens University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4/29.

Usually known as ms29, it is a small oblong notebook stuffed full of sketchy drafts and scribbled transcriptions from the playing of the last tradition bearers.

On page 1 of the book is a two-staff arrangement of “The Banks of Claudy”.

Continue reading The Banks of Claudy