Monday, 17 February 2014

Hamilton Harty: Sea Wrack

It is surprising that there does not seem to be a commercial recording of Hamilton Harty’s fine setting of Moira O’Neill’s poem ‘Sea Wrack’ currently available. A full analysis of this song will have to wait for another day, however I have recently discovered a number of versions of this song on YouTube. The first is by the contralto Muriel Brunskill (1899-1980) and the second is sung by Russell Malcolm with the masterly piano accompaniment played by himself. This film is a beautiful, professional production that shows just what can be done by a dedicated musician. The video shows footage of a wild storm at St. Monan’s in Fifeshire alongside the performer.
Much study needs to be done into Harty's song and the life and achievement of Moira O' Neill. 
For the curious, the word ‘wrack’ means sea-weed or kelp. Cushendun is a beautiful, Cornish style village set on the north-east coast of Ulster – it was the home of O’Neill.

Moira O’ Neill: Sea Wrack
The wrack was dark an' shiny where it floated in the sea,
There was no one in the brown boat but only him an' me;
Him to cut the sea wrack, me to mind the boat,
An' not a word between us the hours we were afloat.
The wet wrack,
The sea wrack,
The wrack was strong to cut.

We laid it on the grey rocks to wither in the sun,
An' what should call my lad then, to sail from Cushendun?
With a low moon, a full tide, a swell upon the deep,
Him to sail the old boat, me to fall asleep.
The dry wrack,
The sea wrack,
The wrack was dead so soon.

There' a fire low upon the rocks to burn the wrack to kelp,
There' a boat gone down upon the Moyle, an' sorra one to help!
Him beneath the salt sea, me upon the shore,
By sunlight or moonlight we'll lift the wrack no more.
The dark wrack,
The sea wrack,
The wrack may drift ashore.

‘Sea Wrack’ was completed by Harty c.1901-2 and was published by Boosey in 1905. There have been numerous reprints.

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