Carolan's Harp Music
for Fingerstyle Guitar
By Glenn Weiser
The following article originally appeared in the November/December 1990 issue of Acoustic Guitar. It was accompanied by my transcription of "Carolan's Receipt" from my book "Celtic Harp Music of Carolan And Others For Solo Guitar" You can see some of my other free Celtic guitar arrangements here. - GW.
|I'm grateful for the opportunity to offer you guitarists a
lovely gem of Irish music, the harp tune "Carolan's Receipt" by Turlough O'
Carolan (1670-1738), which I have arranged for solo guitar.
The composer of this beautiful melody was a blind Irish harper whose numerous surviving tunes are popular with players of Celtic music and can be heard on the records of the Chieftains and other Irish bands ("Carolan's Receipt" can be found on Chieftains 7). Unlike his more traditionally minded contemporaries, Carolan was a great admirer and, to some extent, an imitator of the Italian Baroque school of composition. He attempted to imbue many of his tunes with a classical flavor by writing pieces with extended secon d parts that approximate the effect of baroque thematic development. But because he was unschooled in composition, and also because of the diatonic nature of his instrument, Carolan was never able to credibly emulate the Italian composers. Instead he produced a body of work noted for its blend of Irish and Baroque qualities, and also for its unexpected melodic twists and turns. It's worth mentioning that Beethoven arranged three of Carolan's tunes for piano.
When he wrote "Carolan's Receipt" - as the story goes - Carolan had been feeling badly and went to see a physician, who advised him to swear off the whiskey he was so fond of. Carolan followed the doctor's orders but soon started to feel worse. Deciding that a second opinion was in order, he visited his friend Dr. John Stafford, who was also a great admirer of his music. Stafford said that if Carolan would just play the harp for him, he would give him a receipt - an archaic term for a prescription - for whiskey. The harper readily agreed, and the two stayed up until the wee hours drinking. Carolan played till his harp strings started breaking, and this wonderful tune was born.
This arrangement of "Carolan's Receipt" is from a collection of over 250 transcriptions for guitar, of mostly Celtic fiddle tunes, slow airs, and harp pieces, that I began in the late '70s and am still expanding. All the pieces in the collection are in standard tuning and have notation, tablature, and bass lines that harmonize the melodies in accordance with the traditional rules of voice leading. My collection contains 56 of Carolan's compositions.
Like most Irish tunes, "Carolan's Receipt" is written in binary form - AB. Other than the recurrence of the opening motives in the third measure of each part, there are no repeating phrases as one would find, for example, in a jig or reel. Many harp pieces share this trait, and thus often achieve greater depth and variety than their fiddle tune cousins.
As a guitar piece, "Carolan's Receipt" is played mostly in the lower five frets. This arrangement is marked by frequent ligados (hammer-ons and pull-offs), which should be practiced carefully for a smooth, even flow of melody. Like most of the pieces in my collection, it has been arranged in the original key (G in this case) and so may be played in group situations with fiddlers, harpers, or players of other instruments used in traditional music.
If you have any questions about this piece or anything else I have touched on in this space, feel free to email me at email@example.com.