Thursday, March 31, 2016

Edward Collins' Irish Rhapsody

American pianist, conductor, and composer Edward Collins (1886–1951) wraps up our Irish month here on Clef Notes. Though American, Collins had an Irish heritage that greatly influenced his music.

As a boy, Collins studied piano and composition in Chicago before traveling to Europe to receive further education from Max Bruch and Englebert Humperdink. After finishing his education, he spent a brief period conducting before WWI when he then traveled home to join the U.S. Army. While serving, he spent his free time arranging music to entertain the troops. Following the war, he became a teacher. Unfortunately, Edward Collins has not received the attention he deserved and has become relatively forgotten by many. Below, you can hear one of his Irish-inspired pieces, the Irish Rhapsody.

Stay tuned in April for as we celebrate 400 years of Shakespeare by looking at musical settings of his work!  

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Percy Grainger and the Londonderry Air

Last time we looked at Frank Bridge’s use of the famous “Londonderry Air” in his Irish Melody. A more famous setting of this tune comes from Percy Grainger (1882–1961) in his Irish Tune from County Derry

Born in Australia, Grainger grew up taking piano lessons from his mother and then later attended conservatory. He spent most of his adult life in America and Europe composing, conducting, and collecting English folk tunes. His good friend and fellow composer Edvard Grieg encouraged him to use wax-cylinder phonographs to record his folk tune collection, making him the first to do such a thing. “Londonderry Air” was one of the tunes in his collection that he ended up creating several arrangements for including an a Capella version, a setting for piano, and the famous wind band arrangement. Below you can hear the wind band version followed by a setting for choir.

Did you know that Percy Grainger was known to be quite eccentric? It is said that he carried his favorite piano stool around in a wheelbarrow and dressed in his own, unique way.

Next time we’ll wrap up our Irish-themed month with Edward Collins’ Irish Rhapsody

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Classical Music of Ireland: Frank Bridge

Last time on Clef Notes, we looked at a British composer who used Irish influences in some of his works. Today, let’s look at another man born in England who pulled from Ireland for some of his themes.

Composer, conductor, and violist Frank Bridge (1879–1941) is most famous for teaching Benjamin Britten, who attempted to get the word out about his beloved teacher by writing his Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge. This work is based on the second of Bridge’s Three Idylls for String Quartet. Bridge received an exemplary education at the Royal College of Music and even had the opportunity to study with Charles Stanford, whom we discussed earlier this month. 

Frank Bridge: Courtesy of 

Below you can listen to one of Bridge’s works that draws heavy influence from Ireland. In it, Bridge uses the famous Irish “Londonderry Air,” made famous as the “Danny Boy” tune. Other composers have used this tune as a theme over time, including the famous Percy Grainger in his Irish tune from County Derry. We will learn more about Grainger next time!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Classical Music of Ireland: Granville Bantock

So far this month, Clef Notes has looked at Irish composers in light of St. Patrick’s Day. For the remainder of this month, let’s switch gears a bit and look at composers who were not born in Ireland, but found inspiration in Irish/Celtic themes.

Granville Bantock (1868–1946) was born in London and raised by a father who did not support young Bantock’s desire to make music his profession. Despite this, Bantock went on to study at the Royal Academy of Music, learning composition from the famous Sir Frederick Corder. In addition to composition, Bantock became a prominent conductor and educator.  

Granville Bantock: Courtesy of

In addition to finding influence in the work of Liszt and Wagner, Bantock also drew from Irish and Celtic sources in some of his music. One example is his Celtic Symphony. The one-movement work is based on Hebridean folksongs and calls for at least six harps! Listen to this magnificent work below:

Join me next time as we look at another English composer who drew from Irish sources, Frank Bridge.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Going along with our Irish theme this month on Clef Notes, here’s a few additional “Irish” pieces to accompany your day! Do you have a favorite traditional Irish tune or classical piece inspired by Irish themes or written by an Irish composer?

Danny Boy, Traditional

Symphony No. 3 “Irish”, Charles Stanford

An Irish Symphony, Hamilton Harty

Symphony in E Major “Irish”, Sir Arthur Sullivan

Irish Roots Medley, Modern Mandolin Quartet 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Classical Music of Ireland: Arthur Duff

It’s St. Patrick’s Day this week and on Clef Notes we’re celebrating the classical music of Ireland all month long! Today, let’s take a look at the Irish Suite for Strings written by Dublin-born composer Arthur Duff (1899–1956).

Arthur Duff studied the piano and organ as a child and went on to be a church organist as a teenager. Later he received a formal music education at Trinity College. In addition to performance, Duff also learned to compose. He is known for composing works with Irish idioms for small orchestras. His Irish Suite for Strings (1940) was dedicated to fellow composer E. J. Moeran. Though not actually based on existing folk material, it conveys idioms associated with Irish music. The suite is broken into five movements. The first, “Midir’s Song for Etain,” is based on an Irish myth. The second, “Windy Gap,” found inspiration in a road located in the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland. The third movement, “Fishamble Street, Dublin 1742” references the location where Handel’s Messiah was first performed. The fourth movement, “Dance of Daemer,” draws from a Yeat’s quote “They dance all day that dance in the Land of Youth.” Finally, the last movement, “On the Bridge at Clash,” also finds inspiration in the Wicklow Mountains similar to the second movement.

What do you think? Does it evoke Ireland in your mind?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Classical Music of Ireland: Charles Stanford

Irish composer Charles Stanford (1852–1924) became a leading musical figure in England over the course of his life, teaching at the Royal College of Music, acting as the Chair of Music at Cambridge, and even achieving knighthood.

Charles Stanford (Courtesy of

Stanford grew up in a home where he was encouraged to pursue music. He received a good musical and academic education in Dublin before entering the Queens’ College, Cambridge at 18. After graduation, Stanford had already established himself as an organist, conductor, and soon, a leading composer. He also had several notable pupils including Vaughan Williams, Holst, and Bridge.

As a composer, Stanford wrote in a variety of musical genres including works for voice, stage, orchestra, chamber ensemble, and keyboard. His Irish Rhapsodies are among his noteworthy works, having roots in his Irish heritage. Today, let’s listen to the first rhapsody that he based on Irish folk tales. In it, Stanford takes two traditional Irish tunes and uses them as the basis: “Leatherbags Donnell” and the “Londonderry Air.” We will look at how the “Londonderry Air” is used on other famous works later this month.

Next week we’ll look at one more Irish-born composer, Arthur Duff, before we get to St. Patrick’s Day when I’ll give you a special playlist! Stay tuned! 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Classical Music of Ireland: Joan Trimble

Are you familiar with 20-century Irish composer Joan Trimble (1915–2000)? Today on Clef Notes, we’re going to continue our look at the classical music of Ireland by discussing this woman who, though she spent much of her adult life outside of Ireland, was greatly influenced by the Irish idioms that surrounded her childhood.

Born to musical parents, Joan Trimble and her sister Valerie were encouraged to take lessons at a young age. Joan eventually went on to study music in college where she developed a special liking for the work of Debussy, Ravel, and Bach. In the mid-1930s she moved to London where she joined Valerie at the Royal College of Music. There she met Arthur Benjamin, Herbert Howells, and Ralph Vaughan Williams, and was encouraged to try her hand on composition.

Composing came fairly naturally to Joan. She wrote in a variety of genres but one that she particularly enjoyed was song, due to her love for poetry. Her first song, “My Grief on the Sea,” is a setting of a Connacht love song translated by Douglas Hyde:

My grief on the sea,
How the waves of it roll!
For they heave between me
And the love of my soul!

Abandoned, forsaken,
To grief and to care,
Will the sea ever waken
Relief from despair?

My grief and my trouble!
Would he and I were
In the province of Leinster,
Or country of Claire.

Were I and my darling—
Oh heart bitter wound!
On board of the ship
For America bound.

On a green bed of rushes
All last night I lay,
And I flung it abroad
With the heat of the day.

And my love came behind me—
He came from the south;
His breast to my bosom,
His mouth to my mouth.

Much of Joan’s music has an Irish idiom, drawing from the music she grew up around in Ireland. Joan did not have an extensive compositional output due to other musical activities that took up her time. These included teaching at the Royal College and performing in a piano duo with her sister Valerie.

The piano duo even had a BBC series called Tuesday Serenade that ran for over ten years! Once Valerie began to struggle with her health later in life, Joan decided to move back to Ireland where she took care of the family newspaper business.

Join me next time as we explore Charles Stanford’s Irish Rhapsodies.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Classical Music of Ireland: Victor Herbert

Today we continue our look at Irish-born composers. Are you familiar with Victor Herbert (1859–1924)? You may recognize his “March of the Toys” from Babes in Toyland below:

Herbert was born in Dublin where, shortly thereafter, his father passed away. Several years later, his mother moved the family to Stuttgart after remarrying. Here, Herbert studied cello at the conservatory and played in orchestras.

Victor Herbert: Courtesy of
In the late 1880s, Herbert and his wife moved to the United States where she sang with the Metropolitan Opera and he played cello with the orchestra. He also worked on faculty at the National Conservatory—the same school where Dvorak would be appointed director later in the century. He also conducted the Pittsburgh Symphony during the late 1890s. He later resigned after some disagreements and formed his own orchestra that focused on light music.

Though Herbert composed a variety of serious works, he became best known for his operettas. One of his most famous, Eileen (1917), is based on the Irish rebellion of 1798.

Next week, we’ll take a look at Irish composers Joan Trimble and Charles Stanford! 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Classical Music of Ireland: Hamilton Harty

Whenever I think of March, I think of St. Patrick’s Day. Maybe it’s the Irish blood in me but I thought it’d be fun to look at a few Irish composers this month, and then explore the Irish influences in a few pieces by composers who were not born in Ireland. Today, let’s look at a man who didn’t just compose, but was also known as an organist, pianist, conductor, orchestrator, and arranger!

Hamilton Harty (1879–1941) was introduced to music at a young age by his father. He learned to play the viola, piano, and would often play organ at church. Later on, he moved to London where he became better known as a conductor and accompanist. Harty conducted for many prominent orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra’s 1912–1913 season. In 1920 he began his role as conductor of the HallĂ© Orchestra where he remained until 1933. During this time, he introduced the orchestra to many new works.

Hamilton Harty-Courtesy of

Harty’s orchestral works can be divided into three categories. He has those works that are strictly classical such as his Violin Concerto and his Piano Concerto. He has works that are transcriptions of pieces by composers including Handel and Field. He also has works that draw on Irish themes including the piece we will listen to today, In Ireland.

In Ireland was written in 1918 as a piece for flute and piano. Harty later orchestrated it in the version you can hear below. The headnote on the score reads “In a Dublin street at dusk two wandering street musicians are playing.” Can you hear the Irish influences?