Saturday, 26 May 2018

Hamilton Harty: An Irish Symphony (1924) Bournemouth Programme Note

The text below is from a programme note written by ‘Anon’ and included in the programme of an early Bournemouth Symphony performance the revised  Symphony on 18 April 1925. It describes a picture of Ulster that largely belongs to history, however the 12 July Celebrations are still an important (if sometimes controversial) part of the yearly calendar.  Hamilton Harty was an Anglican, but clearly had a great sympathy towards the Catholic and Reformed Protestant community, as implied by his moving reminiscence of the dead girl.  

"This work, written during the summer of 1924, is an attempt on the part of the composer to produce a Symphony in the Irish idiom, and which should have for poetical basis certain reminiscences of his early youth in the North of Ireland. To this end he has given his themes a characteristically Irish turn, and sometimes, indeed, bases them upon the native melodies of that country. Some of the themes have been used previously by the composer in a youthful Symphony which gained the prize given by the Feis Ceoil, or Irish Music Festival, about twenty years ago.

Though the composer does not desire that his music shall be looked on as ‘programme music’ entirely, each movement has for poetic basis some scene, or mood, which governs the music; and, in that connection, the following extracts are prefixed to the score, with a note asking that they shall be printed in the programme when the music is given.

I.                    ‘On the Shores of Lough Neagh': Allegro Molto
Near where we lived was Lough Neagh, grey and sad, stretching for miles and miles to vague misty shores. Sometimes, when we lay on its mossy banks, old Patsy the Fiddler would hobble out of his lonely cottage to play his tunes for us and tell us stories of a time when Ireland was a land of magic and romance.
But of all his stories, the one we liked best to hear was the story of Lough Neagh itself, and the great city with its cathedrals and palaces which lies buried forever beneath the melancholy waters. Many a time we would stay quiet, thinking we could hear the faint sound of the silvery bells as they swung idly to and fro in the depths, while the mists gathered over the quiet Lough, and the curlews cried forlorn and sad, as if they were lamenting for the days that once had been.

II.                 ‘The Fair Day': Vivace ma non troppo presto
On Fair-Days the streets would be full of kicking horses, and swearing, bargaining men. All was dust and noise, but in the market-place, once it was reached, there were joys and delights. A battered merry-go-round, old women selling gingerbread horses, and ‘yellow boy’ of a surpassing stickiness warranted to ‘draw the teeth out of ye.’ There was also Fat Charlie with his cart of herrings, dancing nimbly in a jig of accomplishing his horrid meal of raw herrings and porter.
Then there was the recruiting sergeant, all martial and glorious and gay cap streamers, offering new shillings to all who would take them. In the evening, we would see him leading off his troop, while the village band marched in front playing ‘The Girl I left behind me,’ very inaccurately, but with fervour.

III.              ‘In the Antrim Hills’: Lento
The day before the 12th of July, I was wandering in the hills which close in one side of our valley. It was a wild and lonely part, and when I came to a little thatched house on the side of a slope I climbed up to ask my way home. The door was opened by a woman with eyes all red with weeping, and I saw that the kitchen was full of men and women dressed in black and drinking, but quiet. There was a bed by the wall on which a young girl lay white and still. Her golden hair was spread all over the pillow and on her breast, was a crucifix. A young man sat near the bed and never took his eyes away from her. Two women with shawls over their heads flung themselves backwards and forwards as they cried a Caoine or lament for the dead. It was a Wake, and I went away, but the young man came after me to show me the way. It had grown dark. Presently he told me his simple story. He had been a hired boy on the farm and went away to try and make his fortune, leaving her to wait for him. But when he came back it was too late.

IV.              'The 12th of July': Con molto brio
The next day was the ‘12th of July’ – the great day of the year when all the Protestant North celebrates the Battle of the Boyne, and the streets are left untrodden by the neighbouring Roman Catholics. The house shook with the din of the drums and flutes and the streets were crowded. The sun was blazing hot, and everywhere were flags and banners with the old defiant inscriptions ‘No Surrender,’ ‘Remember the Boyne,’ [and] ‘The Protestant Boys.’ Everywhere, in great bunches, in button-holes, in hats, on the drums, the orange lilies of the North. Everywhere, as each fresh group came into the little town from the outlying country, there arose the strains of the ‘Boyne Water.’
Later on, when there was ‘drink taken,’ there began quarrelling and fighting. Fights unreasonable and bloodthirsty, quarrels fierce and sudden…
In the midst of the uproar there was a sudden silence, and we saw a simple group carrying a coffin down the steep street on the way to the Catholic burying place. It was the funeral of the young girl I had seen being ‘waked’ the night before, and the coffin was carried by the father and his two sons, and the boy who had told me his story. They brought her through the town even on this dangerous day. Perhaps they had forgotten it was ‘the 12th.’
But the crowd, though sullen and threatening, did not interfere, the drums stopped beating, and it was not until the father and sons had finished their sad business and were returning homeward the angry storm broke loose…
When the night came and nothing was left in the streets but trampled orange lilies and scraps of ribbons I passed by the grave-yard. There was a fresh mound in the corner, and lying across it the figure of a young man with his face buried in the sods. ANON"

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