Through the Digital Door: Early Music Day

21 March is the 9th edition of Early Music Day, a day organised by REMA to celebrate music from Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods. 21 March celebrates both the Spring Equinox and the birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach. This edition of Through the Digital Door takes a look at works in CMC Library's collection which are inspired by early music or are performed on period instruments.

Kevin O'Connell: Early Music (2013/2014) 16'

This work was commissioned by RTÉ and was premiered by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and conductor John Wilson at the Galway International Arts Festival in July 2015. This work consists of six movements. In a 2015 interview with Jennifer McCay from the Association of Irish Composers, Kevin O'Connell discusses his work ahead of the premiere:

Part of the idea behind this piece is to repay a debt to early baroque music [...] Basically, these are versions of six pieces, pre-Bach and Handel, that I love and that I want to share with people. They were originally written for lute or clavichord or harpsichord. I have redone them, rethought them for symphony orchestra, but anyone who knows them would recognise them in my versions.

Kevin Volans: Piano Trio 3 Tombeau des Regrets (2017) 23'

This work was commissioned by RTÉ lyric fm for the Fidelio Trio and was premiered at the Winter Chamber Music Festival in 2017.

This piece was written without pre-planning and as far as possible without any concept: I began at the beginning and worked till the end. The subtitle of 'Le Tombeau des Regrets' refers to Sainte Colombe's beautiful piece for two viols. There is no obvious connection between that piece and my piece, however.

CMC's Salon in November 2020 included a recording of this work, recorded at a concert in Tufts University, Boston in April 2019.

Jane O'Leary: Fantasia: Homage to J.S. Bach (2018) 9'

This work, written for baroque violin and harpsichord, was commissioned by Music Network and premiered by Claire Duff and Benjamin Alard in February 2019.

I drew on some general impressions of Bach's music, the style of the period, and also the particular qualities of sound inherent in these two contrasting instruments from another era. 'Fantasia' was a form often used by Bach, described as 'the play of imaginative invention'; the term implies freedom, unpredictability, an element of surprise. As the music flows, moving forward and reaching upward, it takes some twists and turns, and a resonance from the past filters through.

Garth Knox: Air and Ground (2016) 12'

This work is scored for solo viola d'amore and chamber ensemble (violin, flute/piccolo, cello, bass clarinet and accordion). It was premiered by the composer and Concorde in the Hugh Lane Gallery in December 2016, and was included on CMC's promotional CD new music::new Ireland three, released in 2018.

Ailis Ní Riaín: Reinventions (2010) 10'

This work, for clarinet, viola and piano, was commissioned by TTAATTOO Ensemble with funds from The Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon and premiered in Copenhagen in 2010. This work includes texts from it by Inter Christensen.

Reinventions is based on six of J.S. Bach's Two-Part Inventions for keyboard, these pieces represent my reflections on his work and Inger Christensen's writings.

This work, written for solo piano, was commissioned by ECAT with support from the Scottish Arts Council and was premiered by pianist Simon Smith in Queen's Hall, Edinburgh. This work is published by Universal Edition.

The composer's programme note, written in 2009, makes reference to the link to early music:

I wrote this piece for the poet and playwright Tom McGrath, who died earlier this year. I don’t want to say “in memory of” because his spirit still seems very present to me. Lingering in the resonance of the repeated piano chords you might be able to make out some of the Aria from Bach’s Goldberg Variations; a piece which fuelled Tom’s unbridled imagination.

Barry Guy: Ceremony (1995) 17'

This work is scored for baroque violin and tape, and was premiered and commissioned by Maya Homburger. This work is published by Novello.

The brief for the commission offered several parameters for consideration. The baroque violin (at pitch A - 415), tape multi-tracking, a Navajo Indian chant and the wish that the composition would be best suited to a church acoustic. Maya Homburger also requested music that would reflect both the virtuosic nature of the violin as well as the intrinsic sound qualities of an instrument unchanged since its construction.

Anne-Marie O'Farrell: Rann Dó Trí (2012) 5'

Written for orchestra, this work was premiered by the BBC Concert Orchestra and conductor Charles Hazelwood in March 2013. This work was chosen as one of two pieces to be performed and broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 as part of the Baroque Remixed composition competition.

This piece takes as its springboard the rondo from Henry Purcell’s Abdelazar Suite, which is reinterpreted using contemporary orchestral timbres available, combined with harmonic language which, though tonal, evokes non-classical genres not traditionally associated with orchestral forces, for example, jazz and folk music. The title is a pun on the Irish dancing step, ‘haon, dó, trí’ and the Irish word ‘rann’ means a verse of poetry, suggesting the origins of the medieval poetic form of the rondo.

Sam Perkin: The Copy and the Original (2019) 10'

This work, commissioned by the Killaloe Chamber Music Festival, was premiered by Diane Daly and Claire Duff on baroque violin (415 Hz) and modern violin (440 Hz).

In the piece we hear the two instruments blend together in a number of different ways, at times blurring the line between the colours of the two instruments and their different tunings. Continuously-emerging patterns, which echo between the two performers, flow out of the two violins.

Seán Ó Dálaigh: folachas (2019) 18'

This work, scored for string ensemble and electronics, was commissioned and premiered by the Scotia Ensemble at Killarney House in 2019.

Composed in response to the Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi, this work attempts to portray a contemporary representation of landscape through sonic means. The sound and echoes (ghosts) of Baroque music are a reference to an older idea of landscape portrayed through music. The instrumental parts treat the echoes of musical material like objects and seek to probe and push them to breaking point. These alternative perspectives on nature are obscure, they are hidden in plain sight.

The tape part is constructed of electronically processed, spectral averages of Johann Sebastian Bach's Keyboard Inventions and Sinfonias. These have been analysed and re-notated for the musicians together with further synthesis material.