Words by Thomas Moore;
air: Plough Whistle, arranged by C. Villiers Stanford
"The Dead" (from Dubliners)
The American composer Otto Luening remembered "Joyce had a strong interest in Italian and Irish folk music. He sometimes hummed Thomas Moore's Irish melodies, particularly 'O Ye Dead;'" this was in Zürich, at the end of the 'teens. Joyce had been intrigued with the song since receiving a letter from his brother Stanislaus in 1905 describing a concert in which the Irish baritone Harry Plunket Greene had sung it; Stanny liked the piece and was particularly struck by Plunket Greene's delivery of its second verse. Joyce asked for a copy, learned to sing it, and worked its themes and details — down to the famous snow — into the story he named after it: The Dead.
When the concert program on the CD More Music from the Works of James Joyce was created, the version of this song chosen for performance was the original setting by Sir Henry Bishop. Less than a month before going into the recording studio, Mr. Richey (thinking ahead to one of our future projects) purchased on eBay a copy of C. Villiers Stanford's 1894 Moore settings. Being an inveterate reader of "useless" trivia, he spent as much time looking at the publisher's advertisements as at the music — and found that three songs were available separately, marked "sung by Mr. Plunket Greene"; and one was "Oh! Ye Dead" (see below).
Stanford's intent was to restore the tunes used by Moore to their original states, as collected in the late 18th and early 19th centuries; the full text of his thoughtful introduction can be read here. Stanford also annotated quite a few of the Melodies and he was particularly severe in his note to "Oh! Ye Dead":
A singular proof of Moore's superficial smattering of Irish folk-songs. The melody is a lively agricultural tune, probably whistled by a plough-man. To this Moore has written a dirge, altering the whole character of the air. Apart from this curious blunder, he has ruthlessly altered both notes and rhythm, of which the irregularity was the main charm: treating them indeed after the fashion of Procrustes. These vandalisms I have been able to expunge and to restore the original as it stands in the collection of the younger Carolan.
It is this version of "Oh! Ye Dead" that we have recorded: the very one which so impressed Stanislaus Joyce — and his brother. [CD liner notes by Kevin McDermott]