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Irish Music (1865)
You remember Sir Robert Peel's contemptuous allusion to Irish Music. I have a nut to crack for
the 'right honourable' baronet, whose knowledge of music is, doubtless, equal to his courage--
and The O'Donoghue will tell you there is no doubt about that. Meyerbeer, the great Jew composer,
a high authority, differed much from Sir Robert in his opinion of the melodies of Ireland. I
have not yet heard that famous composer's last great opera, "L' Africaine," finished only a few
days before his death ; but the musical critic of the Athenaeum calls attention to the fact that
one theme of the opera ("Eh, bien, sois libre") is simply "The Minstrel Boy !" And this gentleman,
also mentions the other startling fact, that the bacchanalian song "Versez" in the same composer's
great opera, "Le Prophete," is nothing else than the old Irish quick march (or hodie dance tune)
popularly known as "Paddy Carey."
But there is nothing new in this. "The Last Rose of Summer" is the backbone, so to say, of Flotow's
"Martha," the melody running everywhere through the opera; and the composer makes his heroine sing
an Italian version of the beautiful song itself. Mozart constantly dragged scraps of Irish melody
into his works ; and, strange to say, the most effective in one of his famous "Glorias" consists of
three bars of the " Cruiskeen Lawn." Recently, an accomplished English musician startled and amused
me by assuring me that a song of the composer Hatton (very popular a year or two ago), is a most
ingenious blending of three several Irish tunes. I cannot recall the name of the song at this moment.
I hear nigger melodists singing Irish tunes in London streets every day ; it is not long since I was
shocked to hear a gang of sooty-faced vagabonds singing some beastly rubbish in nigger English to the
exquisite tune of "Love's Young Dream." The organ-grinders constantly come under my window, torturing
some Irish favourite of mine, and greatly distressing me : these unwelcome minstrels reside amongst
the poor Irish working classes in London, and from them they pick off those beautiful airs, and arrange
their pipes or cylinders accordingly. But, indeed, the Melodies of Ireland are a rich vein of gold from
which all the great composers of the world might coin a reputation.
--D. H., in the Irishman.
From the Sydney newspaper the Freeman's Journal Saturday 28 October 1865.
australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory