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PREFIXED TO THE
FIRST AND SECOND NUMBERS.*
Though the beauties of the National Music of Ireland have been very generally felt and acknowledged, yet it has happened, through the want of appropriate English words, and of the arrangement necessary to adapt them to the voice, that many of the most excellent compositions have hitherto remained in obscurity. It is intended, therefore, to form a Collection of the best Original Irish Melodies, with characteristic Symphonies and Accompaniments; and with Words containing, as frequently as possible, allusions to the manners and history of the country. Sir John Stevenson has very kindly consented to undertake the arrangement of the Airs; and the lovers of Simple National Music may rest secure, that in such tasteful hands, the native charms of the original melody will not be sacri, ficed to the ostentation of science.
In the poetical Part, promises of assistance have been received from several distinguished Literary Characters ; particularly from Mr. Moore, whose lyrical talent is so peculiarly suited to such a task, and whose zeal in the undertaking will be best understood from the following Extract of a Letter which he has addressed to Sir John Stevenson on the subject :
I feel very anxious that a work of this kind should be under, taken. We have too long neglected the only talent for which our English neighbours ever deigned to allow us any credit. Our National Music has never been properly collected † ; and, while
* It is, perhaps, necessary to state that the “ Irish Melodies” were originally published in Numbers, to which the following advertisements, &c., were respectively prefixed.
† The writer forgot, when he made this assertion, that the public are indebted to Mr. Bunting for a very valuable collection of Irish Music; and that the patriotic genius of Miss Owenson has been employed upon some of our finest airs.
the composers of the Continent have enriched their Operas and Sonatas with Melodies borrowed from Ireland, - very often without even the honesty of acknowledgment, - we have left these treasures, in a great degree, unclaimed and fugitive. Thus our Airs, like too many of our countrymen, have, for want of protection at home, passed into the service of foreigners. Bat we are come, I hope, to a better period of both Politics and Music; and how much they are connected, in Ireland at least, appears too plainly in the tone of sorrow and depression which characterises most of our early Songs.
The task which you propose to me, of adapting words to these airs, is by no means easy. The Poet, who would follow the various sentiments which they express, must feel and understand that rapid fluctuation of spirits, that unaccountable mixture of gloom and levity, which composes the character of my countrymen, and has deeply tinged their Music. Even in their liveliest strains we find some melancholy note intrude, -some minor Third or Alat Seventh, - which throws its shade as it passes, and makes even mirth interesting. If Burns had been an Irishman, (and I would willingly give up all our claims upon Ossian for him,) his heart would have been proud of such music, and his genius would have made it immortal.
Another difficulty (which is, however, purely mechanical) arises from the irregular structure of many of those airs, and the lawless kind of metre which it will in consequence be necessary to adapt to them. In these instances the Poet must write, not to the eye, but to the ear; and mu be content to have his verses of that description which Cicero mentions, “ Quos si cantu spoliaveris nuda remanebit oratio.” That beautiful Air, “ The Twisting of the Rope,” which has all the romantic character of the Swiss Ranz des Vaches, is one of those wild and sentimental rakes which it will not be very easy to tie down in sober wedlock with Poetry. However, notwithstanding all these difficulties, and the very little talent which I can bring to surmount them, the design appears to me so truly National, that I shall feel much pleasure in giving it all the assistance in my power.
Leicestershire, Feb. 1807.
In presenting the Third Number of this work to the Public, the Publisher begs leave to offer his acknowledgments for the very liberal patronage with which it has been honoured ; and to express a hope that the unabated zeal of those who have hitherto so admirably conducted it, will enable him to continue it through many future Numbers with equal spirit, variety, and taste. The stock of popular Melodies is far from being exhausted; and there is still in reserve an abundance of beautiful Airs, which call upon Mr. Moore, in the language he so well understands, to save them from the oblivion to which they are hastening.
LETTER ON MUSIC,
THE MARCHIONESS DOWAGER OF DONEGAL.
PREFIXED TO THE THIRD NUMBER.
WHILE the Publisher of these Melodies very properly inscribes them to the Nobility and Gentry of Ireland in general, I have much pleasure in selecting one from that number, to whom my share of the work is particularly dedicated. Though your Ladyship has been so long absent from Ireland, I know that you remember it well and warmly — that you have not allowed the charm of English society, like the taste of the lotus, to produce oblivion of your country, but that even the humble tribute which I offer derives its chief claim upon your interest from the appeal which it makes to your patriotism. Indeed, absence, however fatal to some affections of the heart, rather strengthens our love for the land where we were born; and Ireland is the country, of all others, which an exile from it must remember with most enthusiasm. Those few darker and less amiable traits with which bigotry and misrule have stained her character, and which are too apt to disgust us upon a nearer intercourse, become softened at a distance, or altogether invisible ; and nothing is remembered but her virtues and her misfortunes—the zeal with which she has always loved liberty, and the barbarous policy which has always withheld it from her- the ease with which her generous spirit might be conciliated, and the cruel ingenuity which has been exerted to “wring her into undutifulness.” *
It has been often remarked, and oftener felt, that our music is the truest of all comments upon our history. The tone of defiance, succeeded by the languor of despondency -a burst of turbulence dying away into softness — the sorrows of one moment lost in the levity of the next - and all that romantic mixture of mirth and sadness, which is naturally produced by the efforts of a lively temperament to shake off, or forget, the wrongs which lie upon it, — such are the features of our history and character, which we find strongly and faithfully reflected in our music ; and there are even many airs, which it is difficult to listen to, without recalling some period or event to which their expression seems applicable. Sometimes, when the strain is open and spirited, yet shaded here and there by a mournful recollection, we can fancy that we behold the brave allies of Montrose t, marching to the aid of the royal cause, notwithstanding all the perfidy of Charles and his ministers, and remembering just enough of past sufferings to enhance the generosity of their present sacrifice. The plaintive melodies of Carolan take us back to the times in which he lived, when our poor countrymen were driven to worship their God in caves, or to quit for ever the land of their birth — like the
* A phrase which occurs in a Letter from the Earl of Desmond to the Earl of Ormond, in Elizabeth's time. Scrinia Sacra, as quoted by Curry,
+ There are some gratifying accounts of the gallantry of these Irish auxiliaries in “ The Complete History of the Wars in Scotland under Montrose” (1660). See particul for the conduct of an Irishman at the battle of Aberdeen, chap. vi. p. 49.; and for a tribute to the bravery of Colonel O'Kyan, chap. vii. p. 55. Clarendon owns that the Marquis of Montrose was indebted for much of his miraculous success to the small band of Irish heroes under Macdonnell.