25 JULY 1840, Page 20


The Ancient Music of Ireland, arranged for the Pianybrte, to Which is prefixed a Dissertation on the Irish Harp and Hapers, including an Account if the Old Melodies of Ireland. By EDWARD BUNTING.

" My greatest difficulty will be with Ireland," said Sir I[orrler PEEL, when he speculated on the prospects and duties of that Administration which came to so speedy an end ; and the historian, the antiquarian, the musician, may adopt his words, and say " my greatest difficulty is with Ireland." The architectural remains of England are illustrated by written history ; we have the persons, dress, and habits of those by whom they were erected described in the words of our Roman con- querors: but in the remote history of Ireland fiction is so interwoven with truth, and so large a superstructure has imagination erected on the basis of fact, that the difficulty of sifting and separating the one from the other exists in despite of the labours of historians past and present.

That Ireland enjoyed a certain degree of civilization at a very re- mote period, there can he no question. The structure of various build- ings, so old that their age and often their use can only be conjectured, sufficiently attests this fact. Whether in any scientific knots ledge of music the Irish outstript their Anglo-Saxon neighbours, or at what earlier period they knew and cultivated the use of the harp, we have no satisfactory evidence to prove. That both nations at this period knew and cultivated this instrument, is a fact which rests on historic testi- mony. As to the Irish, the evidence of GIRALDUS CANTHIENSIS is clear, which not only states it in general terms, but mentions " the in- tricate, rapid, and crisp" manner of playing practised by the harpers of that country ; while Illsole after delineating the Anglo-Saxon harp, thus minutely describes the method of tuning it. " Shalt peritus

citha- rtcdachordas plures tendens in eithara, temperat eas acumine et gravi- tate tali, ttt superiores inferioribus cenveniant in inelodia, qutedam semitonii, queedam unites toni, qutedam duorum tonorum diffiesnitiam gerentes, elite vero diatessaron, alias diapente vel etiam diapason eon- sonantiam reddentes."

Here then is sufficient proof that both nations must have possessed some knowledge of harmony. A single human voice, or its counter- feit, a pipe, can reach no further than melody ; but the existence of the harp implies the combination of musical sounds, as well as some sys- tematic arrangement of the scale upon its strings,'.Phis inference follows of necessity from the historic fact ; but to what extent, how early, and in what manner the principles of harmonic combination were reduced to practice, we can only guess. No man living has studied the music of Ireland with the same zeal, knowledge, and perseverance, as Mr. Buseriso ; and whatever he produces in relation to this subject is characterized by these qualities. His ardour in his favourite pursuit is thus expressed-

" The hope of being thus enabled, by reviving the national trusie, to place himself in the same rank With those worthy IliShillett Whose labours hale from time to time sustained the reputation of the country for a native Meratwo, had, the editor admits, no inconsiderable share in determining him on in tiring the study and preservation of our Irish melodies the main busink s of 111i: long life; and, he is free to confess, the same hope still animates him in giving these, the last of his labours, to the public. But what at first incited him to thc pur- suit, and what has chiefly kept alive the ardour with which, for nearly fifty years, he has prosecuted it, was and is a strong innate love of these de- light lid strains for their own sake,—a love tear them which neither experience of the best music of other countries, nor the control of a vitiated public taste, nor the influence of advancing years, has ever been able to alter or diminish." Another inducement to Mr. BusTING to have a last, and, as far as he could render it, complete record of Irish melody, was the extinction of the race of Irish harpers, by Whom their old national airs With their traditionary style of perfbrmanee was preserved, and who continued to the last to enrich the existing cullection with original melodies. At the great meeting of the harpers at Belfast in 1792, many of these venerable minstrels were present ; among them Manua O'NEILE, of whont Mr. 13t-Nalso says—" All that the genius of later poets and romance-writers has feigned of the wandering minstrel, was realized in this man"; but " all these," he adds, " are now gone for ever."

Of those collections of Irish melodies which were given to the world under the joint editorship of Moose: and STEVENSON, Mr. BUNTING thus confirms the suspicion we have always entertained—" Sir John Stevenson's supposed emendations of the Irish melodies nil:lined the favour of the extended auditory to whom they were presented, from the excellence of Moore's accompanying poetry." And "in flue second collection," lie says, "more violence was clone to the melodies v'llich the arranger has adapted than in the first." The truth is, that STE- VENSON has no conception of any musical attribute beyond prettiness; a tame insipidity pervades his most approved compositions; and any thing really bold, original, or striking, he would carefully weed out of the airs he undertook to arrange. The collection is divided into-1. Ancient Irish Airs ; 2. Those which date from about the period of the Reformati,■n ; mt. Modern Irish Melodies, Of the first class, Mr. BUNTING says- " Satisfied that the airs of' the first class are all of very greflt antiquity, the editor has taken pains to examine and analyze thdr structure ; and the result Les been, that its them he can trace a characteristic style, ulticiL prevails in ar2 or less throughout all genuine 16,11 music, and cowtit ati.s the ti no test by which to distinguish our native melodies from there of all other motnfries. It is by the prevalence of this peculiar character that Inoth of lite antiquity and genuineness of a numerous class of airs, whets the names of the composers, as is frequently the case, happen to he unknown. And hero it may be necessary to observe, that, judging from the words now sung to many of these antique melodies, we might be disposed at first to refer them to it :Tara- tively modern times; lost it will be found, that in every instance where this difficulty at first sight presents itself; the cvnius of the tune a:11 that of the words are altogether dissimilar; the most tcialerly plaintive airs being often associated with mean or grotesque verses, w 111C1( Malliftely C01(1(1 never have had their origin in the same tastes or habits that prompted their respective melodies. Suet' verses have been composed, and arc composed to this day, ad iqfinitam, by persons of an ordinary vein of humour, through all parts of Ireland ; but neither in Ireland nor elsewhere has any one been found for the last hundred and fifty years, and more, able to produce a single strain of music at all comparable to the airs with which these unpolished lyrics are associated. The ablest composers of the present day are disappointed in the attempt to catch their style, mid invariably meet the fate of Geminiani when he endeavoured to compose a second part to The Broom of Cowden- knowes.' Tunes so unapproachably unique, so eminently graceful, so unlike any other music of the nations around us,—for even in Giraldus's time, ti Irish music was not slow and solemn, as in the instruments of Britain' hot and ending in a sweet concord of sounds,"—eat never with any ;how of reason be attributed to composers living in times of civil discord and doily peril, in penury and comparative barbarism. They bear the impress 'Abetter days, when the native nobles of the country cultivated music as a part atilt. cation ; and, amid the wreck of our national history, arc, perhaps, the most faithful evidences we have still remaining of the mental cultivation and refine- ment of our ancestors."

The most important part of his work Mr. BUNTING has discharged

we have no doubt, with equal fidelity and zeal. The faithfulness with which he has reduced to notation the airs he has collected, we have reason to think, has only been equalled by his diligence in obtaining them. " His acquaintance with the humours and dispositions of the people has enabled hint to preserve with a fidelity unattainable by stranger, the pure, racy, old style and sentiment of every air in his col. leetion." There is, however, another portion of his duty in which ate cannot regard him as being equally successful—we mean the arrange- ment of the melodies thus collected. Simple melody is the produce of every soil and every age ; and if the marks of date and country were legibly impressed on every air, the controversies which in many cases have existed as to its origin would be settled at once, or rather would never have existed. But it is harmony which emphatically marks the date and discloses the character of any composition ; for the combine. tion of sounds being the subject of rules partly founded in nature, but partly, also, artificial, is subject to modifications and changes, Transitions, now regarded as barbarous and uncouth, were used without scruple by the greatest writers of old times, while harmonies at which they would have stood aghast are now in every-day use. If, therefore, to an ancient air is given a modern accompaniment, its character is thereby lost. The " human thee divine" preserves its identity of cha- racter in different countries front age to age; but it is the flowing and ample wig, the hair powdered and rolled up in curls, or the unpowdered crop, that marks the elates of CHA PLES (lie Second, C Ettuos: flue Third, or VICTORIA. It is difficult for a composer to live in imagination in past times, and to reject all the modern forms of harmony which present themselves to his notice ; but in dealing with old melodies, he should at least aim to do so. aLd not disfigure them by additions which destroy their identity. Take, for example, the Air No. VI., (page 3.) Can it be imagined that the liberal use of the chord of the 9th, so characteristic of the present Italian school, was employed by the old harpers who ae. companied it On this point alone we are at issue with Mr. Ilt:NTING : for all else that he has clone to rescue the beautiful melodies of his country from oblivion, and to preserve them in their pure and genuine freshness, we cordially thank him.