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The Given Note by DAVID BRUCE


Daniel Hope, Vincent Segal and the David Orlowsky Trio
shortly before the premiere of The Given Note

'The Given Note' is inspired partly by a story I discovered about the traditional Irish folk song Port nabPucai which originates in the Blasket Islands off the west coast of Ireland. The title translates as 'song of the fairies' and the story goes that a villager on the island heard a mysterious music floating across the night air and copied the song onto his fiddle. The villagers decided that what the fiddler had heard must have been the song of the fairies - although subsequent generations have pointed the finger at an equally intriguing posibility - perhaps the sound the villager heard was actually the song of whales outin the Atlantic whose song has been known to resonate into the air through the hulls of fishing boats. The unusual and haunting flavour of the melody (which opens my piece) certainly doesn't rule this suprising possibility out.

'The Given Note' is the name of a poem by the renowned Irish poet, the late Seamus Heaney, who uses the poem to discuss the intriguing origins of the Port na bPucai song. I understood Heaney's beautiful poem to be a meditation on the unfathomable origins of ALL music, all art, all inspiration. In a way they are 'given' to us from somewhere mysterious, and although in the modern world we might laugh at the quaint concept of 'fairies', when you think about the intangible origins of art, perhaps the idea isn'tso wide of the mark.

My piece sits somewhere between arrangement and original composition, inspired by forerunners in this category like Berio's Folk songs and Stravinsky's Pulcinella. Stravinsky's relationship to hismaterials has always particularly fascinated me. I think it's the mark of his genius that he could conduct a wholesale ransacking of another music - whether it be Mozart in The Rake's Progress, Tchaikovsky in The Fairy's Kiss or Russian folk music in Petrouchka or Les Noces - and still end up sounding like himself. I've always felt it was the careful selectivity of the ransacking that was the key - and when writing this piece I was keenly aware that many of the traditional melodies I looked at didn't speak tome as 'compositional possibilities', whilst others almost instantly started to feel like they were things I had written myself.

The resulting piece slips quite un-selfconsciously between pieces that are almost completely 'arrangement' and ones that are almost completely 'original'. In turned out however that I used at least one traditional melody in each of the pieces, so I gave each of my pieces the title of the 'ransacked' tune it incorporates:

1. Port Na BPucai
2. Dinny Delaney's
3. An Poc ar Buile
4. Dun Do Shuil
5. An Buachaill Caol Dubh
6. The Rocky Road to Dublin
7. Castle Kelly
8. O' Neills March
9. Coda

A word about the fifth tune, which translates as 'The Dark, Slender Boy'. This wonderful air seems to tell the story of the tall slim boy who refuses to leave his friend; but in fact it is a poetic and slightlymelancholy paean to the dark, slenderness of the whiskey bottle. In the Coda, this tune returns, and the strings suggest the poet may have seen a little too much of his friend; however, this disipates to leave only a reminder of the opening Port Na BPucai song, and a gently ringing bell sound. I leave to thelistener to decide whether the bells are something magical, or just the ringing of 'last orders' in the bar...

'The Given Note' is dedicated to my dear friend Richard Brown.

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for Violin,Clarinet,Guitar Cello & Bass

1 Clarinet (doubling Bass Clarinet)
1 Violin
1 Guitar
1 Cello
1 Bass (doubling bells)

Duration c.35mins
Composed May-July 2011 rev. Nov 2013
First performance Mecklenberg-Vorpommern festival, Germany, 4th Aug 2011 by Daniel Hope, Vicent Segal & the David Orlowsky Trio
Commissioned by Co-Commissioned by Mecklenberg-Vorpommern Festival, Germany and Savannah Music Festival, US.
Dedicated to Richard Brown

Past Performances

Related Posts

 • Savannah 2014 (4/12/2014)
 • Meckpomm Snaps (8/7/2011)
 • Musicians bearing gifts (8/1/2011)


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