seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Martin Fay, Founding Member of The Chieftains

Martin Fay, Irish fiddler and bones player, and a former member of The Chieftains, dies on November 14, 2012. The Chieftains collaborate with musicians from a wide range of genres and cultures and bring in guest performers such as Mick Jagger, Van Morrison and James Galway. Yet traditional tunes lay at the heart of the band, with Fay’s fiddle a vital part of their distinctive sound.

Fay is born in Cabra, Dublin, where his mother teaches him to play the piano. As a boy, he is captivated by the music in the film The Magic Bow (1946), about the life of Niccolò Paganini, and he changes instrument. He progresses well in his classical violin lessons and at fifteen is playing in a Butlins holiday camp orchestra. After leaving school at eighteen, Fay works in an office by day and in the evenings plays in the Abbey Theatre orchestra, where he meets the Abbey’s musical director, Seán Ó Riada.

In the 1950s, traditional music is regarded as distinctly old-fashioned in Ireland, but Ó Riada’s success with a film score, and a play at the Abbey, encourage him to establish a folk orchestra which includes Fay, piper Paddy Moloney and the tin whistle player Seán Potts. Instead of all the musicians playing together in unison, as in the established cèilidh bands, Ó Riada wants to create a chamber orchestra, playing arrangements of folk music. Fay’s classical music background is essential for this approach. The resulting ensemble, Ceoltóirí Cualann, enjoys radio success and, in 1961, plays the soundtrack for a film of The Playboy of the Western World. Fay was soon earning more playing traditional music than in his day job.

Garech Browne, a member of the Guinness family and founder of Claddagh Records, asks Moloney to record some traditional Irish music. Moloney brings in Fay, Potts and Michael Tubridy on flute, and uses a similar approach to arranging the tunes. Their eponymous album, The Chieftains, is released in 1964, before they first perform in public. The success of this new approach to traditional Irish music leads to radio and television work, and they attract celebrity fans. Browne is a great thrower of parties, where the guests included Jagger, Princess Grace of Monaco, Peter O’Toole and Sean Connery, with The Chieftains invariably playing through the night.

By 1968, Moloney is working full time for Claddagh Records, and when he, Potts and Fay are offered a recording contract by a rival company, Gael Linn, Moloney refuses to sign. Potts and Fay believe that their future lay with Gael Linn and they leave The Chieftains, only to return a year later. In the meantime, Seán Keane has joined to play fiddle, but on Fay’s return the pair work well together.

The Chieftains’ popularity is extending far beyond folk enthusiasts but they are still playing only in their spare time. That changes in 1975 when they provide music for the Oscar-winning score of Stanley Kubrick‘s film Barry Lyndon and the promoter Jo Lustig books the group into the Royal Albert Hall in London on St. Patrick’s Day. The sell-out concert is a triumph, and Fay and his fellow Chieftains finally give up their day jobs.

The relentless international touring takes its toll on band members with young families, and Tubridy and Potts leave, to be replaced by the flautist Matt Molloy. Fay is happy to continue. A reserved and modest man with a great sense of humour, he is unfazed by the pressures of extensive touring. He is the only Chieftain not to be racked by nerves when playing to well over a million people at Phoenix Park during Pope John Paul II‘s visit to Dublin in 1979.

Although he has a classical training, Fay has a natural understanding of traditional music. He is a master of changing the mood at Chieftains concerts from the lively onstage parties to a more tranquil atmosphere, through his emotional interpretations of the slow airs. In total, Fay records more than 30 albums with the group before he withdraws from touring in 2001 and retires altogether in 2002.

Martin Fay dies in Cabra, Dublin, on November 14, 2012 after a lengthy illness.

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Birth of Pianist Charles Lynch

charles-lynchCharles Edgeworth Cagney Lynch, Irish pianist who premiers works by several important 20th-century composers, is born in Parkgariff, County Cork, on October 22, 1906.

Lynch’s father is a British army colonel and his mother comes from a well-known Cork business dynasty, the Suttons. While still a young boy, the family moves to Greenock in western Scotland and it is there, at the Tontine Hotel, that the young pianist gives his first public recital at the age of nine. When he is fifteen, he wins a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he studies under York Bowen and, later, Egon Petri.

Lynch becomes a popular recitalist in London during the 1920s and 1930s. He gives the first performance in England of Sergei Rachmaninoff‘s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, having been coached beforehand by the composer. Sir Arnold Bax‘s Fourth Piano Sonata (1932) is dedicated to the 26-year-old Lynch, whom Bax later describes as “Ireland’s most imaginative pianist.” In addition to concert recitals he broadcasts regularly with the BBC and, in 1937, acts as assistant to Sir Thomas Beecham at Covent Garden. Lynch is the Ballet Rambert‘s pianist for many years, having helped Marie Rambert form the company.

A pacifist, Lynch returns to Ireland following the outbreak of World War II, where he becomes the country’s premier concert pianist. During this phase of his career he premiers a number of works by leading Irish composers, including Brian Boydell‘s Sonata for Cello and Piano (1945) and Sean Ó Riada‘s Nomos No. 4 (1959). Lynch also performs in the world première of English composer Ernest John Moeran‘s Cello Sonata in A minor, given in Dublin in May 1947. He is joined by the composer’s wife, cellist Peers Coetmore.

In February 1971 at Trinity College, Dublin, he plays the entire set of Franz Liszt‘s transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies over four successive Saturday evenings.

Lynch continues to give public recitals throughout Ireland until shortly before his death at the age of 77. He also lectures in music at University College Cork and gives masterclasses at the Cork School of Music. In 1982, Lynch receives a doctorate in music from the National University of Ireland.

Lynch’s technique is remarkable for the stillness with which he sits, making the most difficult of music seem almost technically unremarkable. His recorded legacy is small, but includes music by Samuel Barber, Ernest John Moeran‘s Violin Sonata (with Geraldine O’Grady, violin) as well as music by Irish composers such as Aloys Fleischmann.

Toward the end of his life he lives in very reduced circumstances. He dies in Cork on September 15, 1984 at St. Finbarr’s Hospital and is buried near Sir Arnold Bax in St. Finbarrs Cemetery, Glasheen Road, Cork.


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Birth of Irish Folk Singer Moya Brennan

moya-brennanMoya Brennan, born Máire Ní Bhraonáin, Irish folk singer, songwriter, harpist, and philanthropist, is born in Dublin on August 4, 1952.

After leaving secondary school, Brennan spends a few years at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin studying the harp, the piano, and singing. She has also taught music at Holy Cross College in Falcarragh, County Donegal.

In 1970 Brennan joins her two brothers, Pól and Ciarán, and their mother’s twin brothers, Noel and Pádraig Ó Dúgáin, and form the band Clannad. They are identified and introduced to television by Tony MacMahon. After enjoying a decade of being among the world’s foremost Irish musical groups, Clannad graduates to chart success in 1982 with the album Magical Ring. Brennan is at the forefront of the group’s success and her voice suddenly becomes synonymous with Celtic music and Irish music at the time. Brennan records 17 albums with Clannad and wins a Grammy Award, a BAFTA, and an Ivor Novello award with the quintet. Her sister, Eithne Ní Bhraonáin, who spends some time with Clannad, continues to pursue a very successful solo career under the name Enya.

Brennan releases her first solo album in 1992, Máire, on Atlantic Records. Misty Eyed Adventures on BGM follows three years later. In 1998, Brennan signs with Word Records and releases Perfect Time, and Whisper to the Wild Water a year later. The album is nominated for the Grammy Award for Best New Age Album in 2001.

Brennan’s autobiography, The Other Side of the Rainbow, is published in 2000 and she performs her song Perfect Time live at World Youth Day in Rome in front of crowds of pilgrims and Pope John Paul II. There are 2.1 million people present, making it the largest crowd ever gathered in the Northern Hemisphere.

In film, Brennan is a featured vocalist on King Arthur (2004), co-writing the title theme Tell Me Now (What You See) with Hans Zimmer. She also writes an additional music score for To End All Wars (2001). In 1995, she duets with Shane MacGowan on You’re the One for the movie Circle of Friends. Brennan has collaborated with many other musicians, including Chicane, Alan Parsons, Bono, Robert Plant, Van Morrison, Michael McDonald from the Doobie Brothers, Bruce Hornsby, Joe Elliott, The Chieftains, Paul Young, Paul Brady, Michael Crawford, Joe Jackson, and Ronan Keating.

In total Brennan has recorded 25 albums, and has sold 20 million records. Brennan and Clannad are credited with the creation of contemporary Celtic music and are held in high esteem for their vast contribution to bringing new life to old Irish songs. They have been compared to Seán Ó Riada, in that they brought the Irish language into popular culture through their music. One critic said, “Clannad’s music offers a terrific fusion between traditional and modern influences.” U2 front man Bono says of her voice, “I think Máire has one of the greatest voices the human ear has ever experienced.”


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Birth of Seán Ó Riada, Composer of Irish Traditional Music

seán-o-riadaSeán Ó Riada, Irish composer and arranger of Irish traditional music, is born John Reidy in Cork City on August 1, 1931. Through his incorporation of modern and traditional techniques he becomes the single most influential figure in the revival of Irish traditional music during the 1960s.

Ó Riada receives his primary education at St. Finbarr’s College, Farranferris. He moves to St. Munchin’s College in Limerick where he completes his Leaving Certificate in 1948. He plays violin, piano, and organ, and studies Greek and Latin classics at University College Cork, with Aloys Fleischmann and graduates in 1952. While at College, Ó Riada is the auditor of the UCC Philosophical Society.

Ó Riada’s career begins in 1954 as a music director at Radio Éireann, after which he works at the Abbey Theatre from 1955 to 1962. He lectures in music at University College Cork from 1963 until his death in 1971. He leaves a lasting influence as founder and director of the ensemble Ceoltóirí Chualann beginning in 1961. Ó Riada becomes a household name in Ireland through his participation in Ceoltóirí Chualann, compositions, writings, and broadcasts. His best-known pieces in the classical tradition include Nomos No. 1: Hercules Dux Ferrariae (1957), but he becomes particularly famous for his film scores Mise Éire (1959) and Saoirse? (1960).

In 1963 Ó Riada is appointed lecturer in music at University College Cork. He moves to Cúil Aodha in West Cork, an Irish-speaking area, where he establishes Cór Chúil Aodha, a male voice choir.

He becomes involved in Irish politics and is a friend of several influential leaders. Ó Riada drinks regularly at a local pub which still advertises itself as being his local. He develops cirrhosis of the liver. He is flown to King’s College Hospital in London for treatment and dies there on October 3, 1971, two months after his 40th birthday. He is buried in St. Gobnait‘s graveyard, Baile Bhuirne, County Cork. Willie Clancy played at his funeral.

Two schools are named “Scoil Uí Riada” after him – a Gaelscoil in Kilcock, County Kildare, and another in Bishopstown, Cork City. In 2008, a life-sized statue is erected in the grounds of Sépéil Naomh Gobnait, Cúil Aodha.