Richard Voss & Laurence Traiger,
O'Carolan's Tunes for Piano
(Mel Bay, 2001)

The blind harper Turlough O'Carolan is probably one of the best-known figures in the history of Irish traditional music. Born in 1670, he was blinded by smallpox at the age of 18, after which he was apprenticed to a harper by the lady of the estate where his father worked. He composed over 200 tunes in his travels throughout Ireland. Because the songs were never published during his lifetime, variations on the many melodies exist.

Collected in this tune book are 32 of O'Carolan's melodies, including his best known -- and legend has it, his first -- tune, "Sheebeg and Sheemore." Three melodies written by Voss and arranged by Traiger in O'Carolan's style have been included.

The book is 40 8 1/2- by 11-inch pages, staple bound, so it does need to be worked back and forth a bit to get it to stay open by itself; a spiral binding would be better, but is probably not as economical for such a slim collection. The book is decorated throughout with Celtic knotwork where tune length leaves room for such, which is on most of the pages. Only a couple of the songs run over onto a second page and where they do, they begin on the left-hand of two pages, so no page turning is necessary. The printing is large and easy to read at a slight distance.

The songs included mostly have the names of people as titles (or "Planxty" and a name), because O'Carolan composed many of them in honor of the people who hosted him during his travels. "Miss MacDermott," therefore, was probably composed in honor of someone in a patron's family.

Some of the arrangements might seem intimidating at first glance, but they're actually quite easy, though not for the absolute beginning pianist. Fingering is given where awkward crossovers might otherwise result, but Voss and Traiger have left phrasing and dynamics up to the taste of the individual player.

For beginning to intermediate pianists, O'Carolan's Tunes for Piano is a good introduction to the music of Turlough O'Carolan and a fun way to spend a few hours.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]
Rambles: 25 August 2001