It began as a play – A Jovial Crew – for which I was asked to write some music. The author, Richard Brome, was writing in the period leading up to the Civil War in the seventeenth century, and this play, written in 1641, was the last to be performed before the break up of English society. The play encapsulates a mood at a particular time in history, in the guise of an escapist romp. Hidden in the play, and representing the road to utopian freedom, is a little song ‘Donegal’, referred to as a ‘mournful song in the distance’. A single stanza is quoted and I reasonably assumed that this was a well-known Irish folk song. I looked everywhere for the tune, but didn’t even come across a reference to its existence, so in a trice I composed my own little fake Irish folk tune. Of all the tunes I have ever written, this one beguiles me the most! The throwaway, innocent little tune remained long after the play was done and I knew that I would have to use it in a more substantial context. So it was that I wrote a choral fantasy ‘Donegal’ in February of the year 2000, for soprano solo, choir & chamber orchestra. In this, I set a wonderful Irish poem by John Todhunter (1839 – 1916), alongside the original Donegal stanza to which I added two more verses of my own:
‘Was that the wind?’ she said And turned her head To where, on a green bank, the primrose flowers Seemed with new beauty suddenly endowed, As though they gazed out of their mortal cloud On things unseen, communing with strange powers.
Then upon that green place Fell a new grace, As when a sun-gleam visits a drop of dew, And every drop shines like a mystic gem, Set in the front of morning’s diadem, With hues more tender than e’er a diamond knew.
And something seemed to pass – As through the grass The presence of the gentlest wind will go – Delicately through her bosom and her hair, Till, with delight, she found herself more fair, And her heart sang, unutterably low.
Fresh mist in the morning and tears in my eyes, Take me back to the dawning of Donegal skies, My life in that country’s a lifetime away: Take me back to the mountains of Ballybofay.
Pure air in the mountains and cold in my head, Take me home to the sundown of Donegal red, My love in my homeland’s an ocean away: Sail me back to the waters of Donegal Bay.
Soft rain in the evening and heavy the earth, Let me home ’fore I die to the land of my birth, My heart for my Donegal’s yearning always: Bring me back when I die to my Ballybofay.
I also weaved two well-known, traditional Irish folksongs into the music – intertwined them around each other – to add to the flavour: The Summer Will Come & She Moved Thro’ The Fair.
This 'performance' uses EastWest library top piano sounds:
I recently came across an old recording of Duncan Honeybourne as a Weymouth College student giving a lunchtime recital on a new (to our department - actually second-hand) grand piano. I rearranged my choral fantasy "Donegal" for him to play.