A note on the program
by Paul Cienniwa 

When Jerry O’Sullivan contacted Audrey and me about a recording project, Newport Baroque Orchestra had just given a concert titled A Dublin Concert in which we performed music by Handel, Kusser, Geminiani and Arne—all continental composers affiliated with Dublin during the 17th- and 18th-centuries. 

Jerry said he wanted to record a second volume of tunes from O’Farrell’s 18th-century Pocket Companion for the Irish or Union Pipes. The first recorded volume features tunes clearly from the folk tradition; this second volume would feature tunes that were more baroque in nature. In preparation for this, Jerry’s colleague Kevin O’Brian prepared basso continuo parts to accompany O’Farrell’s melodies. 

Jerry’s request pointed to the cosmopolitan nature of 18th-century Ireland, with its intermingling of folk and continental musicians. During this time, a lot of traditional Irish music started to have baroque qualities, such as functional harmony in place of modality and chromaticism instead of diatonicism. 

As one who performed a lot of Irish music in his teens and early twenties, I was always perturbed by the baroque-influenced Irish repertoire. It seemed that the traditional composers heard baroque melodies and imitated them without understanding or using the basso continuo underpinning that was prevalent during the baroque period. It was, therefore, a great relief to see Kevin O’Brian’s excellent newly-composed bass lines. This past spring and thanks to Kevin, I think that for the first time in my life I truly understood familiar tunes such as The Blush of Aurora. 

Presented with this project, I immediately suggested to Jerry that we not perform these tunes as “sets”, that is, pair or trios of tunes linked together by meter. While this was how Jerry performed much of the first volume’s tunes—indeed, the traditional way— it seemed that a baroque volume lent itself to suites. 

During the baroque period, composers created instrumental suites. These collections of dances, usually united by the same tonality, were international in nature, moving from an allemande to a courante thensarabande, ending with a gigue. 

Some of the tunes that Jerry gave me actually have baroque dance names (e.g., Pipe Govot, Handel’s Minuet). The majority, however, have baroque dance characteristics. For instance, The Serenade is an allemande, and To the Post and Away is a gigue. From Jerry’s selections, it was pretty easy to organize suites that resemble baroque dance suites. As there were no real courantes or sarabandes, I placed fast movements where courantes would normally go and airs where sarabandes would be. In turn, we’ve created a new “old” way of listening to Irish traditional music. 

The following is a list of the various suites from our program and how I’ve laid out the movements to mimic baroque dance suites: 
  • Suite in G: Prelude (Duett X); Allemande (The Serenade); Minuet (Duett XII: Tho Prudence May Press); Air (Kean O’Hara); Gigue (Bath Medley)
  • Suite in D: Prelude (O’Carolan’s Concerto); Allemande (The Spinning Wheel); Courante (The Ulster Rondo)*; Air (O’Carolan’s Cup); Minuet (The Blush of Aurora); Gavottes (The Imperial Quickstep/Duett III: Gavot); Gigue (The Echoing Horn)
  • Suite in a/D/e: Allemande (Princess Royal); Courante (The Retreat)*; Air (To Daunton Me); Minuets (Handel’s Minuett/Let Fame Sound the Trumpet); Minuet (The Goblet of Wine); Gigue (Captain O’Kane)
  • Suite in D: Allemande (The Hen’s Concert); Courantes (Fly Not Yet/Miller’s Maggot)**; Minuet (Bright Phoebus); Gavottes: (Pipe Govot/Union Pipe Gavott); Gigue (To the Post and Away) 
*this is a gavotte, but, as a quick movement, it takes the place of a courante
**these are gigues, but, as quick movements, they take the place of a courante

Violoncello by Charles Riché (1997), Uvernet, France; violoncello bow by Pieter Affourtit (2007), Venhuizen, Netherlands.  Harpsichord by William Dowd (1966), Boston, USA