Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Irish Suite

What's that Irish music that the Pops played? Well, it just might have been Leroy Anderson's The Irish Suite. Leroy Anderson (1908-1975) is considered the major 20th century American composer of light orchestral miniatures. And he was the primary arranger of music for the Boston Pops Orchestra during the Fiedler years.

Based on Irish tunes, The Irish Suite was composed in 11 or 12 days in 1947, as a four movement suite entitled Eire Suite. It was first performed by the Boston Pops Orchestra under the direction of Arthur Fiedler. Anderson revised his suite in 1949, adding two movements and changing the order the movements are performed. Leroy Anderson wanted people to know that the suite was originally commissioned by the Eire Society of Boston, and that the score was dedicated to Arthur Fiedler. The movements are as follows:
  1. The Irish Washerwoman, the first movement, is a traditional Irish jig -- a fast lively dance. The dance tune, a staple of fiddlers, has had many melodic variants, many texts set to it, and many titles. The earliest use of the title, The Irish Washerwoman, dates to 1792. Leroy Anderson emulates the traditional Irish fiddle and the tin or penny whistle sounds with the violins and the flutes and piccolo.
  2. The Minstrel Boy, the second movement, is based on the patriotic Irish song by Thomas Moore (1779-1852) and the melody called The Moreen. Moore wrote The Minstrel Boy as a memorial to some of his friends who had taken part in the 1798 rebellion of the United Irishmen. In the song, the minstrel went to war with his harp and a sword, but he perished, and his harp would never speak again. "Thy songs were made for the pure and free, they shall never sound in slavery." Anderson captures the feeling of the song with a slow march over an ostinato bass, and the distant trumpets and drums of war.
  3. The Rakes of Mallow, the third movement, pictures the "carousing and rioting of the young bloods of Mallow," according to Leroy Anderson. The song dates back to approximately 1740, when the term "rake" applied to men who participated in a variety of dissolute behavior. Anderson depicts the escalation of the drinking, partying, and whoring of the rakes by having the music go faster and become noisier throughout the piece.
  4. The Wearing of the Green is an anonymous Irish street ballad from around 1798, the time of the rebellion of the United Irishmen. Green was the color of the United Irishmen, and a shamrock in the hat was a sign of rebellion. The display of nationalistic or revolutionary signs, such as the color green, was punishable by hanging by the British authorities. Anderson treats this fourth movement as a scherzo, with the melody alternating between the sections of the orchestra. The strings play pizzicato throughout the movement.
  5. The Last Rose of Summer is based on the 1805 poem by Thomas Moore and its musical setting by Sir John Stevenson. Friedrich von Flotow used the song throughout his opera Martha in the 1840s. The beauty and poignancy of the last rose of summer are depicted in Anderson's fifth movement through a beautiful violin solo, with an accompaniment of strings, horns and trombones.
  6. The Girl I Left Behind Me, the final movement of The Irish Suite, is a military march -- a fife tune -- used by British, American and Irish soldiers. It probably dates back to the mid-17th century and its origins are uncertain, but it is known to have had several different names. It was first published in Dublin in 1791. Anderson included The Girl I Left Behind Me in his Irish Suite because the song was "Irish by adoption." Leroy Anderson particularly noted the contrapuntal effects near the end of the movement, where the piccolo and the flutes (the fifes) play the first part of the melody against the second part of the melody played by the horns.

This blog post was based on program notes written by the Polley Music Librarian for a Leroy Anderson centennial concert of the Lincoln Civic Orchestra in April, 2008.

No comments: