19th century Irish harp tune lists

When I was doing my newspaper research a month or two back, I found quite a lot of mentions of tunes played by individual named harpers. I realised that I could usefully try to collate all these different references, to get some kind of overview of what were the most commonly mentioned tunes in the inherited Irish harp tradition through the 19th century.

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Féachain Gléis

When I started my Old Irish Harp Transcription project, one of my aims was to move away from what had been happening before, where people focussed in on particularly interesting, curious or unusual tunes, and studied them intensively while kind of ignoring the broad context of other tunes in the manuscripts.

However, now that I have pretty much gone through all of the “ordinary” harp tune transcriptions I am just left with those unusual ones. I did consider ignoring them but I think there is value in dealing with them. But I think I have to do them a bit differently.

So, for this tune we will discuss four aspects of it. First, we will look at its position in the manuscript, which raises some important questions about Bunting’s collecting process. Then, because it is one of the most studied old Irish harp tunes, we will briefly consider what other people have written about it. Thirdly, we will talk a little about parallels in other traditions. And finally we will think about it in the context of a pentatonic modes analysis.

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Coolin, or Lady of the Desert

The Coolin, or the Lady of the Desert, has been discussed a lot by Irish harp scholars over the years, most recently by Siobhán Armstrong in her PhD thesis (Middlesex 2020). However it is an incredibly muddled subject. I am not sure if we have one tune or two; I am not sure if the titles are connected or garbled; the live transcription notation from a harper looks like it has been heavily over-written and edited, so that we cannot see the initial live transcription dots; and in general this is the kind of problem notation that I have been silently skipping over in my Old Irish Harp Transcriptions Project.

However we should try to begin untangling some of these threads, and try to say something useful about all this.

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Dawn of Day

In the 1790s, Edward Bunting made a notation of a tune titled “Dawn of Day”, apparently as a live transcription from the playing of the old Irish harp tradition-bearer Denis O’Hampsey.

In this post we will have a look at the live transcription notation and try to say something useful about it.

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John Jones

In one of Edward Bunting’s little collecting pamphlets from the 1790s, there is a two-page opening containing a live transcription notation and expanded neater version, or the tune of John Jones. You can see the two pages online. They are Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29 page 164/162/171/f80v and page 165/163/172/f81r

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True love is a tormenting pain

Some time in the 1790s, Edward Bunting made what looks like a live transcription of the tune of True love is a tormenting pain, from the playing of the elderly Irish harper and tradition-bearer, Denis O’Hampsey.

The page with the live transcription notation on is now Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29 p.160/158/167/f78v.

In this post we will look briefly at the live transcription notation, to see what it can tell us about traditional Irish harp performance style and idiom.

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Cad é sin do’n té sin nach mbaineann sin dó

In the 1790s, Edward Bunting made a transcription of the tune of Cad é sin, live from the playing of the traditional Irish harper Denis O’Hampsey.

In this blog post we will briefly go through what we know about this live transcription notation and what it might tell us about traditional Irish harp performance style.

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