University of Tasmania
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Old and new : musical characteristics and effects of the Irish folk music movement of the twentieth century

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posted on 2023-05-28, 12:51 authored by Lamb, BJ
Despite the international success and long careers of Irish ensembles like The Chieftains, The Dubliners, The Clancy Brothers and Planxty, there has been minimal research into the height of their popularity during the Irish folk music movement of 1960 to 1979. Numerous documentaries such as the BBC's Folk Hibernia (2007), O'Toole's No Disco (2003) and the various series on key individuals from The Chieftains and The Dubliners have highlighted the cultural and musical significance of these performers, in particular, their influence to change the Irish musical landscape of the mid-twentieth century. The documentaries and literature on these performers acknowledge a clear relationship between tradition and innovation amongst these ensembles with an Irish musical identity central to this new sound. However, they do not provide detailed analysis and reflection on how these changes occurred and what were the key features introduced during this time. This study identifies a clear catalyst for this musical movement within Ireland in Se‚àö¬8n ‚àöv¨ Riada and his formation of Ceolt‚àö‚â•ir‚àö‚↠Chualann at the beginning of the 1960s and the popularisation of Irish traditional repertoire in a new medium: the folk orchestra. An analysis of the common musical and instrumental features amongst ensembles during this period reveals two key areas of innovation due to these performers: 1) new instrumentation and collection of new instrumental textures, and 2) progressive arrangement of Irish repertoire including the contribution of original composition to the already sizeable communal body of Irish music. Analysis of the recordings from this period identify these two elements as the most evident aspects of change to Irish music and confirm their presence as a lasting legacy in the Irish musical landscape. Due to the ensemble setting, pioneered by ‚àöv¨ Riada, performers like Johnny Moynihan, Paul Brady, Andy Irvine and D‚àö‚â•nal Lunny introduced and adapted instruments like bouzouki, mandolin, and acoustic guitar to suit the nuances of Irish music. Interviews with select performers of this period also provide a unique insight into their creative process and their relationship with Irish repertoire. These perspectives highlight the intrinsic connection of Irish music to these performers and the conscious sensitivity towards creating cultural change in Irish music. Through the exploration inherent in these instrumental choices, these performers also introduced new rhythmic and melodic ideas in an Irish context, further expanding the vocabulary of Irish traditional and folk performance. In identifying these key elements and their musical, social, and cultural contexts, this study will provide greater detail to the body of research around this period and will contribute to future research around Irish music more broadly.


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