I am not usually an enthusiast of excerpting movements from symphonies, however when the composer himself did this on a regular basis I have to turn a blind eye. In fact ‘The Fair Day’ was the only movement of his symphony that Harty ever recorded.
Hamilton Harty’s ‘Irish’ Symphony was composed in 1904 in response to a call from the Feis Ceoil in Dublin. The festival organisers required a symphony based on traditional Irish airs. This was largely inspired by a recent performance of Anton Dvorak’s popular ‘New World’ Symphony. It was believed by the committee that this work was founded on ‘Negro melodies.’
In 1902 the prize had been won by Michele Esposito who was a Neapolitan composer living in Dublin. However, in 1904 Harty took the prize with his ‘An Irish Symphony’. Lewis Foreman has noted that this is very much an Ulsterman’s symphony, with the particular folksongs chosen for inclusion and the programmatic/topographical setting of each movement.
The second movement was entitled ‘The Fair Day’ and served as the symphony’s scherzo. It is a well-wrought, short piece that shows the composer’s skill, humour and subtlety.
Jeremy Dibble in his recent study of the composer has noted that ‘The Fair Day’ was Harty’s memories of a local carnival. He quotes, ‘Horses and cattle –noise and dust -swearing, bargaining men. A recruiting sergeant with his gay ribbons and the primitive village band. In the market place, old women selling gingerbread and ‘yellow boy’ and sweet fizzy drinks. A battered merry-go-round.’
The music opens with a local fiddler tuning up his violin. This is followed by a reel called ‘The Blackberry Blossom’. After a short space the composer introduces the well-known tune ‘The Girl I left behind me.’ David Greer, in the liner notes for the Chandos recording has noted that this latter tune is played in ‘fifths’ which makes it sound as if it is being played in two keys simultaneously. Apparently this was in imitation of flute bands that Harty had heardin Ulster. This extremely short movement ends quite suddenly.
In a review on MusicWeb International Rob Barnett has suggested on that ‘Vernon Handley polishes Harty's ‘The Fair Day’ until it fair gleams with emerald iridescence in the Irish sun’.
Hamilton Harty’s recording of ‘The Fair Day’ was issued Columbia C.9891 in 1929. At present there are three versions currently available or relatively easily attainable. Firstly, the Ulster Orchestra conducted by Bryden Thomson on Chandos 10194. This can also be heard on YouTube. The National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland are conducted by on Naxos 8.554732. Finally, there is also a version on Lyrita SRCD336 with Vernon Handley conducting the New Philharmonia Orchestra