Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 49. Ó'Riada sa Gaiety

Top 102 Albums. No 49. 
Ó'Riada sa Gaiety - Sean Ó'Riada agus Ceoltóirí Chualann

Sometimes music has the power to take your very breathing and change it to the breathing of forty years before. It runs inside you and through you and something flickers to life just outside the range of your vision. This is one of those records for me.

My relationship with Irish traditional music is hard to pin down. I have never really been a student of it, in the way that I have gone through periods of listening and reading about other forms of music, the blues, folk, genres and sub-genres of rock music but at the same time I have heard huge amounts of it. It has always been present and some of it seems to evoke very powerful feelings. Perhaps being subjected to indiscriminate torrents in my youth caused my feelings to tend towards the bemused.

Ó'Riada occupies strange ground in Ireland. Is there anything but strange ground, I wonder? He was a successful civil servant and new father who abandoned job, family and country to study and compose avant-garde music and live a bohemian life in Paris but then returned some years later to country, wife and family to become a great polemicist for traditional Irish music and to found Ceoltóirí Chualann from which The Chieftains would spring, write the 'alternative national anthem' Mise Eire, and even write two masses. He then died of cirrhosis at the age of forty.

The music here harks backwards, with Ó'Riada's harpsichord adding a touch of times long past as O'Riada gives a nod to the famous 18th century harper and composer Turlough O'Carolan. I find that his playing underpins the music with a sense of the tragic. The way that this sadness can pervade the music while it yet remains celebratory is one of its triumphs. The arrangements are sparse and unfussy, allowing the melodies to shine through in their often strange beauty.

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