The traditional-contemporary dichotomy in Irish art music : a new compositional approach

  • Ryan Molloy

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    The issue of Irish art music has been the subject of much discussion in this past decade and beyond. Since Sean O Riada's exploits into the usage of Irish traditional music in an art music medium, there is thought to have been a fundamental division in Irish art music. Between composers who work mainly in the European styles of the twentieth century with perhaps only a nodding glance to Irish traditional music and those composers who use Irish music with a retrospective eye to the techniques of the nineteenth century, eschewing the contemporaneous musical language, there has been no perfect marriage of the two.

    In this work, the current dichotomy between traditional Irish music and contemporary music is studied through the context of twelve new compositions and accompanying commentaries, each addressing individual issues within this dichotomy. Drawing on recent summative work by Dave Flynn, the current problems in the incorporation of traditional Irish music in contemporary classical musical language are discussed and new approaches to this crossover considered. The innate expressive gestures of traditional performers are dissected and efficient means of communicating these to a contemporary musician developed. Fundamental aspects of traditional Irish music including melodic frameworks (modes), rhythm, ornamentation, aural transmission and improvisation are analysed and implemented systematically in a range of new compositions for varying forces.

    One of the main areas which remains largely unexplored in traditional music is the possibility of microinterval modality. Old performances of traditional music contain many inflections in tuning, some but not all of which are slides. This work presents a preliminary empirical examination into precise and recurring pitch entities in old recordings and relatively modern performances of Irish traditional music which have been hitherto undocumented. The results of this are used in combination with other aspects of traditional language to create four new works comprising the Seamsur series.
    Date of AwardJul 2013
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Queen's University Belfast

    Cite this