Friday, 6 February 2015

Granville Bantock: The Mermaid’s Croon

Granville Bantock had many literary and topographical influences on his music including Oriental, Greek and Pagan. He also wrote a number of works inspired by Scotland, the land of his patrimony. Many of these are of a programmatic nature and often have a ‘Celtic twilight’ feel to them. Some were inspired by the redoubtable folk-song collector and personal friend of the composer, Marjorie Kennedy-Fraser (1857-1930).  They frequently included tunes which she had collected. These works include a two act opera, The Seal-Woman, the great Hebridean Symphony, the Celtic Symphony, the two tone poems, The Sea Reivers and Cuchullan's Lament, as well as a number of songs and choral works.

‘The Mermaid’s Croon’ (Crònan na maighdinn-mhara) was originally published in Songs of the Hebrides (1907- 1921) collected and translated by Marjory Kennedy-Fraser and edited by Kenneth MacLeod (1871-1955).  The tune had been ‘phonographed’ (recorded) from the singing of Penny O’Henley from South Uist with traditional words from the island of Eigg.
Bantock made his setting for chorus of unaccompanied mixed voices which was published by Curwen in 1915.
The listener needs to understand that the mermaid was married to a mortal. A footnote in the Kennedy Fraser edition further explains that the Swan is ‘the daughter of the twelve moons’, the Seals are ‘the children of the King of Lochlann under spells’ and ‘the Mallard [duck] is under the Virgin [Mary’s] protection, hence all are ‘sacred’ and not even the reivers or robbers would meddle with the ‘tenderling’ left under such protection’. The refrain of the song is word-music and is not translatable.

Marjory Kennedy-Fraser (1857-1930)
The Mermaid’s Croon

Refrain: Ho mo nigh’n dubh
He! mo nigh’n dubh, mo nigh-ean dubh
‘S tu mo chuach–ag

I
Sleep beneath
The foam o’ the waves
On reefs of sleep
Dreaming in dew-mist.
Sleep beneath
the foam o’ the waves
On reefs of sleep
Dreaming in dew-mist.

II
Thy sea-bed
The seals o’er-head
From reivers dread
Securely guarding
Seals o’er-head
thy deep sea bed.
From reivers dread
Securely guarding.

III
While I croon,
White swan of the moon,
Wild duck of the sound,
By thee are resting.
Moon white swan
White swan of the moon,
Wild duck of the sound
A-near thee resting.

The Mermaid's Croon can be heard on Songs of the Isles with the Elysium Singer. 
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