Four Irish Folk Songs


Four Irish Folk Songs


for two voices (or chorus) and piano (2009)

  • Premiere: 18 April 2009, Hudson, NY / The Hudson Opera House / Elaine Valby, Gilda Lyons, voices; Daron Hagen, piano / The Phoenix Concerts
  • Instrumentation: 2 voices (or chorus) and piano
  • Duration: 18.5'
  1. The Bard of Armagh
  2. The Praties
  3. Danny Boy
  4. Little Boats

Program note

These four ballads are favorites of my very young sons. I have heard them bearly nightly for years as their mother sings each to them. I have given each melody a new harmonization and piano accompaniment, as well as a melodic partner in the form of a second voice.

The tune of the Bard of Armagh is usually attributed to the Bishop of Dunmore, Patrick Donnelly who, because of the "Banishment Act," took the name Phelim Brady around 1697. Various versions of this melody exist, including "The Streets of Laredo," or "The Cowboy's Lament," which Frank Maynard claimed authorship of in the early twentieth century. My setting was done in April 2009 and is dedicated to Elaine Valby and Paula Kimper.

The Praties, or "The Famine Song," is one of the most famous of the many songs about the Irish potato famine, which devastated not just Ireland's potato crops but also most of Europe's during the 1840s. Many view the famine as the dividing line in the Irish historical narrative. My setting was first done for two voices and clapping in 2009, then expanded to serve as the second movement of my violin concerto, "Songbook," in 2001; I then revised for piano and two voices in 2015. It is dedicated to JoAnn Falletta and Michael Ludwig who, with the Buffalo Philharmonic, premiered the violin concerto.

Danny Boy remains one of the most famous, and most misunderstood of the great Irish ballads. The original tune was composed by Frederic Weatherly, an English songwriter, in 1910 and known then as "Londonerry Air." Some interpret the song to be a message from a parent to a son going off to war; others link it to the narrative of the Irish diaspora. My setting originated in Italy during a 1993 stay at the Rockefeller Foundation's Villa Serbelloni. I dedicated it to Gianna Celli, at the time the estate's benign matriarch.

Little Boats is based on the traditional Gaelic song  "Báidín Fheilimí" ("Feilimí's little boat"). I made the setting in 2009 and dedicated it to Jocelyn Dueck.

I accompanied Elaine Valby and Gilda Lyons in the premiere of the set at the Hudson Opera House in Hudson, New York, on 18 April 2009.


The Hudson Opera House, site of the premiere of Four Irish Folk Songs.

The Hudson Opera House, site of the premiere of Four Irish Folk Songs.

(Banner image: newly-harvested potatos.)