Score on special sale from the Hire Library

Programme Notes

Òran Fìdhle / Violin Song is a collection of 21 short duos based on the rich repertory of traditional Gaelic song accessible through the online resource Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o’ Riches (https://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk). Following the model of Bartók’s 44 Duos for 2 Violins (1931), they are presented roughly progressively and can be performed in in any order or combination.
I started writing these as fun things to play with my young daughter, on the one hand as ways to indulge her fondness for interesting timbres and ‘extended’ techniques, on the other as a way for her to encounter her Scottish heritage, albeit from something of a distance, geographically and musically. The distance is important: like the Bartók, these duos are resolutely not folk music, even though they come from folk music.
The songs from which these duos derive are mainly waulking songs: Gaelic verse traditionally sung as a way of passing the time while working cloth on the islands. It’s not my tradition: although Scottish I am not a Gaelic speaker, and while I played in a lot of ceilidh bands in my youth that was very much an instrumental, dance-based (and city-oriented) activity. It is, however, my heritage; and not just by dint of nationality but also by love of music and song and storytelling.
Because it is not ‘my’ music, I want to make the distance clear: these are not arrangements or recreations such as a folk musician might legitimately make, but rather new pieces of ‘contemporary classical’ music written by way of the Gaelic originals. A double translation takes place: from vocal to instrumental music and from work-song to concert-piece. My approach to respecting the integrity of the source is to harness the difference that these translations necessarily entail: freedoms (and expectations) in timbre and harmony and structure that aren’t necessarily available in the home tradition. It is therefore important that my duos amplify their source rather than erase it, and so each piece has the URL of its audio in the Tobar and Dualchais archive printed alongside. Although these are (with one exception) traditional songs, the starting point for my compositions are the specific performances by the specific people acknowledged on each page.
There is a basic principle of equality between the two parts, but in general the top part is a little more straightforward, and numbers 1-13 can all be played entirely in first position. Explanations of unusual techniques and notes on each piece can be found at the end of the score.
Thanks to Mary Ann Kennedy for help with the Gaelic and the English translations, and to Eleanor Suckling for trying out early versions of many of the duos.