Beethoven’s Irish Songs | Release Date 5 April 2014

A complete recording of Beethoven’s Irish Songs, performed by staff, students and alumni of the DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama, will be released on the 5th of April, 2014. This year is the 200th anniversary of their first publication in 1814. Beethoven’s arrangements of traditional Irish airs are for voice/s and piano, with optional violin and cello. The recording, featuring almost thirty performers, will be the first complete recording of the Irish Airs, using a new, chronological catalogue by Professor Barry Cooper of Manchester University, with his kind permission. The interesting aspect of this recording is the re-texting of most of the songs.

Beethoven didn’t set the texts of the Irish folksongs. He arranged the melodies sent to him by George Thomson, the Edinburgh publisher who had commissioned the settings. Thomson then applied texts retrospectively to Beethoven’s settings. He couldn’t use the poetry of Robert Burns, who had promised verses for the songs, because Burns had died by the time the settings were completed, and there were copyright issues. He then requested Thomas Moore to provide texts for the songs, but Moore went with another publisher (and achieved great success). Thomson then had to be satisfied with texts of mixed quality from minor poets such as William Smyth, Joanna Baillie, Mrs. A. Grant, David Thomson and T. Toms.

In a letter to the Musical Times in 1927 the Irish Historian and musicologist, William Henry Grattan Flood, wrote:

“In this Centenary Year of Beethoven it ought not to be an unprofitable commercial venture for some English publisher to risk a republication of Beethoven’s Irish Melodies, and, so far as possible, to substitute Moore’s lyrics for those sent by Thomson”.

Now, some 85 years later, this has been done by the late Tomás Ó Súilleabháin, musicologist, singer and broadcaster, in a new edition of the Irish Songs. He has selected texts, mostly by Thomas Moore and Robert Burns. As Thomson’s sources for the Irish airs were the same as Moore’s, many of the tunes will be familiar, for example “Silent, O Moyle” uses the tune of My Dear Eveleen and “The Minstrel Boy” is set to the air of The Moreen. Interestingly, there are no known sources for ten of the airs, effectively making Thomson the source for these tunes.

This recording, produced by the DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama, under the auspices of its Research Foundation for Music in Ireland, features artists Alison Browner (mezzo), Colette Boushell (soprano), Sinead Campbell-Wallace (soprano), Aoife O’Sullivan (soprano), Andrew Boushell (tenor), Eamon Mulhall (tenor), Lawrence Thackeray (tenor) and many up-and-coming young vocalists. The pianists are all members of staff of the Conservatory’s Keyboard and Vocal departments, and the string parts are performed by Duo Chagall (violinist Gillian Williams and cellist Arun Rao, lecturers at the Conservatory).

Go to top