The twenty-one short pieces that make up Philip Hammond's
Miniatures & Modulations
are inspired by the
melodies collected and arranged in "The Ancient Music of Ireland"
by Edward Bunting.
This calls for a bit of explanation which I will shamelessly plunder from
the composer's own insert notes. Edward Bunting (17731843) was born
in Co. Armagh. He was trained in classical music first by his elder brother
and later apprenticed in Belfast to an organist called William Ware. He
became known in the gentrified society of Belfast as a teacher. Nevertheless
he earned his living as an organist and also as a concert promoter. He thus
organised a great music festival in 1813 when a large portion of
was performed for the first time in
Belfast. What, however, is of interest as far as Philip Hammond's
large-scale piano cycle is concerned, is that Bunting was engaged to
annotate and record all the music he heard at the Belfast Harp Festival of
1792. At that time some people feared that the aural tradition of Irish harp
music and harp playing was in danger of being lost forever. Incidentally,
the 1792 festival was the last of its kind which adds some considerable
importance to Bunting's job at the time. Afterwards he continued
collecting other folk material. He eventually had three volumes of
"Ancient Irish Music" published respectively in 1796, 1809 and
1840. These volumes in total contain well over three hundred tunes.
Things being what they were, Bunting dutifully arranged his material for
the Piano Forte although he really desired to be as authentic as possible.
One would have to wait for Percy Grainger to arrange folk tunes in a less
adorned manner. The fact is that without Bunting and his arrangements a
treasure trove of traditional Irish music would have been lost.
Now to Philip Hammond's Miniatures & Modulations
first item of the cycle to be written was Open the Door Softly
(track 16) composed to mark the retirement of a colleague. Then Hammond
started studying Bunting's volumes more closely so that by 2011 or so
he had completed fifteen pieces to which he later added another six in 2013.
The twenty-one pieces are what can be heard here. The
'miniatures' of the title are a more or less straight
statement of the folk tune. By contrast the 'modulation'
implies some sort of variation, arrangement or even digression on the basic
tune or parts of it or even of the accompaniment, or part of it, devised by
Bunting. All this amounts to a hugely varied cycle of generally short though
often demanding pieces. Needless to say, Michael McHale rises superbly to
every challenge, musical and technical. Incidentally he had already recorded
two of these pieces in his earlier recital ("The Irish Piano"
RTI lyric fm CD139): John O'Reilly the Active
(track 7) and
the concluding item here, the boisterous The Beardless Boy
I have listened repeatedly to this most enjoyable release for
pleasure's sake for this is a really quite attractive disc. It can be
taken in whole or in part since there is apparently no fixed order in which
the pieces have to be played. Some, I am sure, would make superb encores: I
think of The Beardless Boy
but there are others.