Gerard Cousins | Hiraeth - Celtic Guitar Music from Wales

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Hiraeth - Celtic Guitar Music from Wales

by Gerard Cousins

The idea of magical music has existed in Wales since the remotest of times. It dwells deep in the core of the Celtic nature and is imbued with that quality called Hiraeth which echoes in Welsh music and poetry through the ages, a longing for that which, it seems, life can never give.
Genre: Classical: Contemporary
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Tros Y Garreg (Crossing the Stone)
4:54 $0.99
2. Gwahoddiad (Arglydd Dyma Fi)
3:13 $0.99
3. Fantasia on Ar Lan y Mor
11:37 $0.99
4. Dafydd y Garreg Wen (David of the White Rock)
3:16 $0.99
5. Hiraeth
2:51 $0.99
6. Amanda's Delight
3:43 $0.99
7. A Short Verse for Edward Thornburgh
1:35 $0.99
8. A Sad Pavan Forbidding Mourning
4:03 $0.99
9. Olwyn Ddwr (Water Wheel)
4:14 $0.99
10. Crossing Water Alone
10:50 $0.99
11. Teifi's Dream
1:49 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes

Tros y Garreg tells the story of a warrior returning home after battle. Crossing the Stone of home he imagines all of the memories the old stone carries from centuries of war and love. In this arrangement I’ve tried to capture the conflicting moods this warrior must have felt. The happiness of returning home safely contrasted with his melancholy as many friends must have been slain; the optimism for the future and the horrors of the past.

Gwahoddiad is a favourite Welsh hymn sung by male voice choirs throughout the land. The hymn has an international history, it was written in America by the Methodist minister Lewis Hartsough (1828-1919) but was later brought to Wales and translated into Welsh by Rev. John Roberts (Ieuan Gwyllt). Famously recorded by Cerys Matthews with a country and western flavour and titled Arglwydd Dyma Fi (Lord here I am) it was this version that inspired my arrangement.

Ar Lan y mor (Down by the Sea) is a favourite Welsh love song. My arrangement of this beautifully simple and elegant tune is a fantasia, an improvisation where I have tried to evoke the sea and the waves. The middle section represents a magical parallel world, where things are not quite as they seem, a dreamlike, underwater realm, where the melody is refracted and magnified as if underwater.

Dafydd a Garreg Wen (David of the White Rock) is a very popular Welsh tune which first appeared in Edward Jones’s book Musical and Poetical Relicks of the Welsh Bards (1784). It is attributed to the blind harpist Dafydd Owen who on his deathbed called for his harp and composed this haunting air.

Hiraeth by Grace Williams was originally written for the harp. I was struck by its ability to present conflicting emotions simultaneously - one of the greatest powers of music. The mixture of major and minor chords leave the listener in a state of both happiness and sadness and the accompaniment gently propels you forward and then back. The melody and accompaniment combine to produce a sense of yearning, of longing, of ‘Hiraeth’. The piece itself is short and is yet so concentrated, overflowing with music. To paraphrase Benjamin Britten when he heard Manuel daFalla’s guitar masterpiece Homenaje por Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy – “the piece is only 4 minutes long but it has 20 minutes of music in it!”

Robert Smith was an organist and lecturer in the University of Bangor, specialising in baroque and renaissance music. He was commissioned by the Welsh guitarist Colin Tommis and wrote Two pieces for guitar, each a portrait of his grand-children. Amanda’s Delight is a distinctive mix of jazz and baroque influences which he describes as a ‘terse sonata-rondo’.

Thomas Tomkins was born in St David’s in 1572 and soon became a chorister at the Cathedral where his father was Master of the Choristers and Organ-player. His great talent for composition and his prowess at the keyboard took him to the very heights of musical life, being appointed one of the Chapel Royal organists and composing music for Charles I’s coronation in 1625. He spent 50 years of his long life as organist of Worcester Cathedral although he always kept in touch with the musical affairs in the capital. He wrote much choral music, madrigals and instrumental works for viols and the keyboard. A Short Verse for Edward Thornburgh is one of his shorter virginal pieces and gives us a glimpse of his talent.

Tomkins was of course a royalist, who found himself at odds with the parliamentarians who damaged the Cathedral organ and smashed the beautiful stained glass windows. He found solace in the composition of keyboard works and upon hearing news of the execution of the king in 1649 wrote one of his finest pieces, A Sad Pavan for these Distracted Tymes, full of tense emotion packed into little space. Welsh born composer Hilary Tann has cleverly woven sections of this work into her Sad Pavan Forbidding Mourning. Three large quotes marked ‘with grief’ ‘with resignation’ and finally ‘with hope’ show us the journey that this highly charged and original guitar piece takes.

Olwyn Ddwr (Water Wheel) by Gareth Glyn is from a virtuosic suite of Harp pieces entitled Chwarae Plant (Child’s play). By no means ‘child’s play’ to perform, the pieces were inspired by Tecwyn Vaughan Jones’ book about Welsh playthings of long ago, Teganau Gwerin Cymru. Olwyn Ddwr is a paper propeller with a twig axle that when placed in a stream rotates in the current, though as the music depicts its spinning was never quite regular.

Simon Thorne was born in Devon, but now lives and works in Cardiff where he is active as a composer, improvising musician and theatre artist. Crossing Water Alone was originally written for the cello and involved much thought when arranging it for the guitar as the physical act of performing the piece was integral to the music’s meaning. The problems were solved by retuning the guitar strings in imitation of the cello. The material of the piece plays with the possibility of three kinds of sound event: notes produced by the normal pushing down of the strings against the fingerboard, notes produced by lightly touching the strings to produce harmonics and no sound at all - silence. As the music progresses and the fingers become lighter on the strings, notes change into harmonics and a subtle choreography emerges that according to the composer ‘reveals the interior life of strings.’

Teifi’s Dream was written the night before my sister was due to give birth to a baby we all felt would be a boy and was to be named Teifi. I wanted to write a lullaby for the baby who I imagined would one day grow up to be a great rugby player and sing Hen Wlad fy Nhadau at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. With this in mind, I wrote out the melody to the national anthem and this reharmonisation effortlessly followed. Teifi’s dream was composed and ready for the special day. However, after many days of waiting, a beautiful baby girl was born who still awaits her own song.



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