The Irish Music Manuscripts of Edward Bunting (1773-1843): An Introduction and Catalogue / Dr Colette Moloney, ed.

A guide to some 1,000 traditional instrumental melodies (including many harp tunes) and 500 song texts (mainly in Irish) from 18th- and 19th-century Ulster and Connacht preserved in the music manuscripts of the musician and collector Edward Bunting. Includes an extensive introduction, a catalogue listing titles, music incipits, first lines of verse, names of persons and places, annotations etc., and numerous indexes, on 735 A4 pages. This catalogue is the first to give direction to Irish traditional music in manuscript and the first of its kind in Irish studies.

Edward Bunting of Armagh was a nineteen-year old professional musician in Belfast when he was engaged at the Belfast Harp Festival of 1792 to note down the music of the last of the oral-tradition Irish harpers. Entranced by this music of medieval origins which was foreign to his own classical training and experience, and introduced by it to the contemporary world of Irish traditional music, he made the collection, arrangement and publication of traditional music his lifework, and published three volumes of airs in 1796, 1809 and 1840 which have made his name famous.

However, in his published arrangements Bunting altered the original melodies to suit the tastes of his public. He published only about a quarter of the music and music information he collected or was given, and seemingly for political reasons he published none of the traditional song texts, most of them in the Irish language, which he collected through agents such as Patrick Lynch of Co Down. The manuscripts containing this enormous and unique body of material give an unrivalled view of the culture of traditional instrumental music and song across Ulster and Connacht in the years around 1800. They are of especial interest for the study of the Irish harp (including the wire-strung harp) and the music and verse compositions of the harper-composer Turlough Carolan, but they also contain music noted from the uilleann pipes and music of several other types. The manuscripts were lost sight of after Bunting's death, but were accidentally rediscovered in 1907 through a chance encounter in London between the Belfast musician Charlotte Milligan Fox and Bunting's grandson. They are now mainly held in Belfast in the Library of the Queen's University.

This introduction to and catalogue of Edward Bunting's Irish music manuscripts by Dr Colette Moloney opens up for the first time the riches they contain. Setting Bunting's work in the context of his time and place, she pioneers the use of the methods of paleographic analysis on Irish music manuscripts, bringing the manuscripts into chronological order and uncovering the eighty-five scribes besides Bunting who contributed to them by the examination of such features as paper types, rastrography, bindings, collation of leaves and handwritings. Particular attention is paid to information on harp music and harpers in the manuscripts, and to other genres of ancient music which they contain, such as Ossianic airs and crónáin. The catalogue proper lists each music and verse item in order, with titles, music incipits (usually four bars), first lines of verse, annotations and other features. An extensive series of indexes includes the explication of obscure titles and lines of verse, and the listing of all the persons and places mentioned in the manuscripts.

As well as having great aesthetic interest, Bunting's work illuminates the Belfast and the Ireland of his time. Begun at a time of intellectual and political ferment in radical circles in 1790s Belfast, the manuscripts contain contributions from activists such as Bunting's friends the McCracken family, the pioneering medical doctor James MacDonnell, and the United Irishman Thomas Russell, and they provide glimpses of the social and religious composition of the contemporary countryside.

This is a work of reference which will be an indispensible research tool for musicians, especially harpers, for scholars of Irish music, language and oral literature, for cultural historians, and for all students of the Ireland of Bunting's time. It unlocks a wealth of music and cultural information first preserved some 200 years ago but only now made known to readers worldwide.

Dr Colette Moloney from Charleville, Co Cork, is a musician in both classical and traditional idioms and a music scholar specialising in the Irish harp. A graduate in music of University College Cork, she gained her Ph.D. from the University of Limerick in 1995 on the subject of the Bunting music manuscripts. A former director of the Ennis school of music Maoin Cheoil an Chláir, she is currently a lecturer in music in the Waterford Institute of Technology.

Published 2000 by the Irish Traditional Music Archive / Taisce Cheol Dúchais Éireann, 73 Merrion Square, Dublin 2, Ireland, with financial support from the Heritage Council / An Chomhairle Oidhreachta, Cáirde na Cruite, the Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon, and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Product Type:  Book