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 Post subject: Re: Why the key of D?
PostPosted: Tue Dec 24, 2019 3:58 pm 
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PB+J wrote:
But was there some reason Harps should have been in D?

They're not. Typically they're centered around C when they're without sharping levers or only have a partial set, otherwise the E is dropped to Eb if you have a full set of levers because that way it offers the greatest available number of keys to play in. If you want to play in the D compass you have to flip the appropriate levers to set it up.

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 Post subject: Re: Why the key of D?
PostPosted: Tue Dec 24, 2019 3:59 pm 
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Nanohedron wrote:
PB+J wrote:
But was there some reason Harps should have been in D?

They're not. Typically they're centered around C when they're without sharping levers or only have a partial set, otherwise the E is dropped to Eb if you have a full set of levers because that way it offers the greatest number of available keys to play in. If you want to play in the D compass you have to flip the appropriate levers to set it up.


Right I know but were they in D in O'Carolan's day? I can't see why they would have been


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 Post subject: Re: Why the key of D?
PostPosted: Tue Dec 24, 2019 4:18 pm 
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PB+J wrote:
Right I know but were they in D in O'Carolan's day? I can't see why they would have been

I know someone knowledgeable that I could ask, but the answer may be long in coming, especially with the holidays upon us. But I'll give it a shot.

Bear in mind that the harp O'Carolan played, the wire harp, is set up differently, too, so that may have some bearing: Unlike on the modern harp where the scale runs uninterrupted, on the wire harp where the upper and lower registers meet there are two G strings next to one another; "the sisters", they're called. But harp strings will only be at their best at the pitch they're intended to have. Maybe because in O'Carolan's day harps were solo instruments, there might have been little need to build harps for universally fixed pitches, much like flat set uilleann pipes. In that case, maybe D notation was simply a convention much in the way it is for us Trad players today. It still doesn't answer the question of "Why D?", though, does it.

It also makes me wonder what means medieval harpers used to tune by.

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 Post subject: Re: Why the key of D?
PostPosted: Tue Dec 24, 2019 4:52 pm 
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You can't really base it on anything, as far as I can tell: any generalization brings a counter example.


You can, analysis of keys, structure and all that sort of thing have been done, based on various collections. Breathnach collected well over 10.000 tunes in his time, you can do statistically significant things from there.

The pitch of baroque flutes has no bearing on traditional music. They weren't used for that music.

I also think you should distinguish between the bardic tradition of the harpers and the tradition we have today. They're different things. The harping tradition went extinct. There's no dispute about that. You can examine keys used by Bunting but it is known he did a fair bit of changing there before publication.

The wirestrung harp's tuning/pitch can vary considerably with temperature and environmental factors. I know a very fine player of the wirestrung and he, when playing solo, more or less lets it fall where it lands, as long as the harp is in tune with itself. I imagine it would have been the same with the old harpers, no standard pitch, as keeping a fixed pitch is quite an undertaking. And the copper wire they used at the time would have been stretchier than the steel wire used today. But perhaps that touches more, again, on issues of pitch rather than key.

I have a copy of the Neal collection of 1724 here, a quick look shows there's a mix of tunes in D, G C,F and Bb. But again, I don't know what we can read from that and how that relates to traditional (dance) music, its more music for the drawing room than the music of the country houses. And I don't think the two mixed much before O'Riada started toying with both.

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 Post subject: Re: Why the key of D?
PostPosted: Mon Dec 30, 2019 4:42 am 
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With this thread in mind I re-visited Henebry's Handbook over the christmas, although not in depth.

Perhaps more than you'll ever want to know about keys and modes in Irish music.

ITMA has a PDF : here

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 Post subject: Re: Why the key of D?
PostPosted: Mon Dec 30, 2019 12:46 pm 
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Mr.Gumby wrote:
With this thread in mind I re-visited Henebry's Handbook over the christmas, although not in depth.

Perhaps more than you'll ever want to know about keys and modes in Irish music.

ITMA has a PDF : here



I've tried to get through that with no luck. It seems to get a little, well, nutty. Like those pages with the numbers and parentheses and roman numerals. He seems to be trying to use the numbers to conceal the fact that he's just making subjective judgements.

It is clear that there is an "Irish" music quality. Henebry thinks it has to do with tuning, and some notes being "out of tune." Hes not entirely wrong about that I don't think.

I was recently teaching myself a new tune and came across some versions arranged for classical guitar. The revelation to me was how "baroque" the tune sounded, or rather how easily the tunes lent themselves to that treatment. It makes sense if we assume many tunes in ITM are that old. But that leads me to think that the "Irish" quality is in performance, not in structure: in timbre, phrasing and time .


Last edited by PB+J on Mon Dec 30, 2019 4:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Why the key of D?
PostPosted: Mon Dec 30, 2019 1:57 pm 
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Mr.Gumby wrote:
With this thread in mind I re-visited Henebry's Handbook over the christmas, although not in depth.

Perhaps more than you'll ever want to know about keys and modes in Irish music.

ITMA has a PDF : here

I couldn't make that link work, for some reason. Fortunately, I already have the Henebry handbook. It's pretty pretentious, and not well-founded, in my opinion. It's still of great interest for an insight into the state of thinking about Irish music around the turn of the 19c/20c.

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 Post subject: Re: Why the key of D?
PostPosted: Mon Dec 30, 2019 3:50 pm 
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The link worked for me.

benhall.1 wrote:
[Henebry's Handbook is] pretty pretentious, and not well-founded, in my opinion. It's still of great interest for an insight into the state of thinking about Irish music around the turn of the 19c/20c.

A product of its time, to be sure. Henebry probably wasn't any more bombastic than other academic writers of his day; it seems to have been the prevailing style. But for this modern reader, its self-consciously overwrought ornateness succeeds better in repelling than in whetting the appetite for things to come. It also strikes me as disordered, which doesn't help. Add to that Henebry's penchant for seeing his conjectures as facts, and you have a read that is hard to bear.

Can't say how far I'll be able to get with it, but I'll give it a heave-ho one way or the other.

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 Post subject: Re: Why the key of D?
PostPosted: Tue Dec 31, 2019 4:15 am 
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A product of its time


That it certainly is. My reason for posting the link was mainly what he had to say in the second chapter, the use of a standard key to write Irish music, or what I remembered of it from a previous reading, as it related to the current thread.

He does have some insights in scales and intonation that are worth considering, even if you have to cut through a lot of chaff. The material he used as the foundation for his musical examples is ultimately sound, if you listen to the recordings he made. Some twenty years or so ago Pat Mitchell sent me copies of the cylinders Henebry recorded of the singing of Padraig O'Neill, who was sixteen at the time of recording, quite impressive stuff (see here for some of the Henebry cylinders)

But the thing about scales is worth pondering when listening to fiddlers like Bobby Casey, Paddy Canny, Denis Murphy, Padraig O'Keeffe, Martin Rochford etc who each had very distinct sounds and scales they used, very much removed from ET. And very much deliberate and considered too.

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 Post subject: Re: Why the key of D?
PostPosted: Tue Dec 31, 2019 4:02 pm 
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Mr.Gumby wrote:
My reason for posting the link was mainly what he had to say in the second chapter, the use of a standard key to write Irish music, or what I remembered of it from a previous reading, as it related to the current thread.

Thanks for spurring me on. :)

Henebry would probably be astonished that interest in the uilleann pipes not only rebounded, but has grown as much as it has these days. And given his stances on what makes Irish music and what does not, I wasn't at all surprised at his poor opinion of O'Carolan.

Mr.Gumby wrote:
He does have some insights in scales and intonation that are worth considering, even if you have to cut through a lot of chaff. The material he used as the foundation for his musical examples is ultimately sound, if you listen to the recordings he made. Some twenty years or so ago Pat Mitchell sent me copies of the cylinders Henebry recorded of the singing of Padraig O'Neill, who was sixteen at the time of recording, quite impressive stuff (see here for some of the Henebry cylinders)

But the thing about scales is worth pondering when listening to fiddlers like Bobby Casey, Paddy Canny, Denis Murphy, Padraig O'Keeffe, Martin Rochford etc who each had very distinct sounds and scales they used, very much removed from ET. And very much deliberate and considered too.

I'm going to have to do more repeated reading; it might be my lack of formal education in music, but on Irish scales, his analogy of bundles of rods as compared to a yardstick hasn't yet given me anything I can hold onto. Frustrating.

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 Post subject: Re: Why the key of D?
PostPosted: Wed Jan 01, 2020 5:50 pm 
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Dang. I’m intrigued. I’ve waded pretty deeply into pitch and temperament in European art music through the ages, but keys and key centres in ITM is a whole nother ocean. Hold my beer....

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 Post subject: Re: Why the key of D?
PostPosted: Fri Jan 10, 2020 2:01 pm 
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Thanks for the link to the Henebry cylinders, Peter. Great singing, love Margaret Costelloe.


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 Post subject: Re: Why the key of D?
PostPosted: Sat Jan 11, 2020 1:01 am 
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His recordings of (some of the) singers were a revelation. I like the way their singing seems natural while with some current singers (and musicians) I can't help feeling they sound like they've been taught, very deliberately and consciously putting in their ornamentations an bits all the time.

It's also interesting he he recorded Labhrás Ó Cadhla early on, I am familiar enough with LOC's later recordings and am always intrigued by the keens he sang. There's this story of Ennis doing a radio broadcast of recordings he made of Ó'Cadhla. Arriving in the studio for the (live) broadcast he realised he forgot to bring the field recordings. Without missing a beat he announced the first song and sung it himself. Apparently no one noticed (well, someone must have, we wouldn't have the story otherwise).

UCC did a project some years ago, digitising and documenting the Henebry cylinder collection, which is much more extensive than I expected (114 in all, including 30 sent to him by O'Neill). It was online for a while but disappeared again, unfortunately, before I could download the lot (frankly I expected it to stay up so there was no immediate need to snatch the recordings in full, or the ones I didn't already have).

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 Post subject: Re: Why the key of D?
PostPosted: Sat Jan 11, 2020 6:52 am 
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O'Neill has some fairly critical things to say about Henebry. He accuses him of monumental egotism and conceit. He's also miffed because he went to the trouble of recording cylinders and sending them to Henebry, who never acknowledged the gift and reportedly never even listened to them, telling a friend "captain O'Neil can wait til I'm ready" or something to that effect. Henebry seems to have pissed off lots of people in the States--he's removed from his professorship at Catholic University in DC for obscure reasons and it makes the newspapers, and then there's a journal called 'the Gael" which often attacks Henebry and "the henebriates." But it's very hard to what the whole thing is about and it's an example of the kind of tedious infighting "enthusiasts" excel at. Some of it has to do with claims that O'Neill's collections weren't Irish enough.

Along with the key of D I'm still wondering when ITM went from solo playing to ensemble playing. A large part of the difficulty O'Neill and his friends encounter when they are compiling tunes for the book is the way people vary the same tune. They can't agree about the "definitive" version. The act of writing them down, though, creates a "definitive" version so two people who have never met before can get together and play the same tune together. I know there are images of ensemble playing in the nineteenth century (snap apple night" is the famous example) but O'Neill nearly always describes solo playing, in Ireland, in Chicago and when he describes the farmers ("one third of whom were Irish" playing at dances in Edina, Missouri.


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 Post subject: Re: Why the key of D?
PostPosted: Sat Jan 11, 2020 7:30 am 
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The act of writing them down, though, creates a "definitive" version so two people who have never met before can get together and play the same tune together.


While I can see your point, I would have to question that in the sense that even a tune learned from notation will be varied in the hands of a traditional musician. A written version would be a starting point at best. Experienced musicians 'feel eachother up' in a sense and will bring their versions closer together as they go along. Often you'd have a a frame of reference, knowing a musician's style or influence helps to anticipate the route they are going to take through a tune and from there on it's a matter of fine tuning to bring things closer together.

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