Bryden Thomson: Arnold Bax Éire Trilogy, Ulster Orchestra

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Arnold Bax Éire Trilogy

I. Into the Twilight (1908)
II. In the Faery Hills (1909)
III. Rosc-catha (1910)

Conductor: Bryden Thomson
Ulster Orchestra

Éire is a triptych of three early symphonic poems by English composer Arnold Bax (1883-1953). In 1902, when Bax discovered the world of Celtic mythology and culture through the poetry of W. B. Yeats, he travelled to Ireland, studied its history and learned to read Irish Gaelic. Originally a Wagnerite, Bax began to incorporate elements of Irish music into his harmonic idiom; he also was influenced by (and an influence on) the French Impressionist composers, such as Debussy and Roussel, as well as his compatriot Frederick Delius.

In November 1907, Bax wrote a five-act play based on the legend of Deirdre from Irish mythology. He had been planning to adapt this play as the libretto of a future opera, but he soon gave up this project. Instead of discarding his musical sketches for the opera, he moulded them into a trilogy of "symphonic pictures," with the planned prelude becoming "Into the Twilight," after the poem of the same name by Yeats. The two companion pieces are the tone poems "In the Faery Hills" (1909) and "Rosc-catha" (1910), which also incorporate music from the abandoned opera. According to Bax, "[Into the Twilight] seeks to give a musical impression of the brooding quiet of the Western Mountains at the end of twilight, and to express something of the sense of timelessness and hypnotic dream which veils Ireland at such an hour." Other thematic material from this work is derived from the unifinished tone poem "Cathaleen-ni-Hoolihan."

"In the Faery Hills" was partially inspired by the following verses from Yeats' poem "The Wanderings of Oisin" (or Usheen):

And Niamh blew there merry notes
Out of a little silver trump
And then an answering whispering flew
Over the bare and woody land
But when I sang of human joy
A sorrow wrapped each merry face.
And caught the silver harp away,
And, weeping over the white strings, hurled
It down in a leaf-hid, hollow place.

The warlike "Rosc-catha" (pronounced "rusk-kah-ha" and meaning "Battle-hymn"), which depicts a fierce battle from Irish myth, concludes the trilogy with bravado and pathos. It was dedicated "To the 'mountainy men' of Glencolumcille."