Trio Festivale: The Great Hunger Tour

August 6th, 2018 in Blog with NO COMMENTS

Trio Festivale: The Great Hunger Tour

Trio Festivale: The Great Hunger U.S. Tour (flute, cello, piano, poetry)

Trio Festivale will be performing the program “The Great Hunger” in their U.S. tour in September, which is sponsored and promoted by Culture Ireland, the government arts agency of Ireland. The program “The Great Hunger” is an all-Irish related program, including Frank Martin’s Trio on Irish Folk Tunes, new arrangements of Irish traditional music for the ensemble, and at the center of the program, a newly commissioned poetry and music work, “The Great Hunger”; by composer Ian Wilson. The new work celebrates one of the most influential works of poetry by the great Patrick Kavanagh (1904-67), combining poetry and music in the performance.

Background of The Great Hunger poem 1942 – The Great Hunger, by Patrick Kavanagh
The poet skewers traditional depictions of Irish country life in one of his most innovative satirical poems.
“The world looks on
And talks of the peasant:
The peasant has no worries;
In his little lyrical fields He ploughs and sows;
He eats fresh food,
He loves fresh women, He is his own master
As it was in the Beginning
The simpleness of peasant life.”

These mocking lines from Patrick Kavanagh’s long poem The Great Hunger echo the representation of Irish rural life in their dark satire. Kavanagh is the first poet of international stature to emerge from a society of Catholic small farmers – but what he had to say was not quite what many wanted to hear. Kavanagh, who grew up on 16 acres of what he called “hungry hills” in Iniskeen, Co Monaghan, could write with great lyric power about the ordinary life of an ordinary farm, and he rose to popularity in the late 1920s. But as his voice matured he used it
to evoke not just rustic pleasures but real challenges such as poverty, frustration and loneliness.  His ferocious poem, The Great Hunger, is one of his greatest literary works. With the centenary of the Great Famine approaching, Kavanagh can be seen as mapping its long-term emotional and psychological consequences in an Ireland that had to learn to value continence and caution above all else. The soil of the farm has become both language and body for the poem’s protagonist, Patrick Maguire:

“Clay is the word and clay is the flesh
Where the potato-gatherers like mechanised scarecrows move
Along the side-fall of the hill – Maguire and his men.”

These more playful elements remind us that the poem is not a work of sociology or polemic. The poem’s anger is controlled in its often subtle forms. Kavanagh’s withering conclusion that

“The hungry fiend / Screams the apocalypse of clay / In every corner of this land” may be aimed at contemporary Ireland, but it also anticipates a far wider sense of absurdity and disillusion that will descend on much
of European culture after the second World War.  Background of the musical work
“The Great Hunger” for flute, piano and cello – commissioned by Trio Festivale
Program notes by composer Ian Wilson . The Great Hunger is a half-hour rondo-fantasy for flute, piano and cello inspired by, and in many ways based upon Patrick Kavanagh’s eponymous and seminal long poem of 1942. Its railings against the mythical, mythological and Romanticised Ireland of Yeats and De Valera caused a furore at the time but nevertheless Kavanagh accurately and from experience describes the rigours, loneliness and frustrations of the Irish peasant farmer in this exploration of the trials of living and subsisting in a small rural community.
The poem is in 14 sections, and its recurring themes include events in the life of the poem’s principal character Patrick Maguire and his relationships with his mother, the church and the land as well as his romantic frustrations – his ‘marriage’ to the land prevents him finding romantic relationships.I call the musical work a rondo-fantasy because, like the poem, its structure is based upon the recurrence of ideas associated with Patrick Maguire, alternating with passages inspired by the character of his mother, his romantic frustrations, working
the land and other related subjects.. The rhythms of actual lines from the poem appear throughout, sometimes
generating whole sections (“Sitting on a wooden gate” at letter D, “O he loved his mother above all others” at letter J), and sometimes inspiring snatches of melody (“Did you let the hens out, you?” at letter C, “Yet sometimes when the sun…” at letter F).

The contrast between Maguire’s awkward relationship with the church and the possibility of seeing God in nature is explored at letter F, where an expansive and resonant motif is contrasted with a direct quote of JS Bach’s arrangement of the 16th-centrury chorale “O man, thy sin is great”, somewhat disjointed as if to suggest the rupture between the church and Maguire, and by extension, its failings among the larger population. One more detail is important – the line from the poem’s 5th section, “There is no tomorrow; no future…” immediately reminded me of the Sex Pistols song “God Save the Queen”, which has an anthemic chorus of “No Future” ringing out at its close. I was a teenager when this song was censored by the BBC despite outselling its rivals for the number one spot in the pop charts. The three-note melody from that phrase in the song begins my work The Great Hunger, albeit somewhat disguised, and reappears throughout – Maguire has no chance of the future he might otherwise
have felt was his due because of his position and his ‘calling’.  Throughout the score I have included quotes from the poem to indicate to the . musicians where some ideas have their roots, but overall the idea of the musical work is to create a fantastical atmosphere and provide the listener with a journey inspired by, but not slavishly joined to Kavanagh’s wonderful poem. In doing so, I hope that the listener will be able to experience a distillation of some of my own emotional reactions to Kavanagh’s text.  I am grateful to the Walled City Music Festival, Trio Festivale and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland for enabling me to bring this work to fruition.

Thursday, September 13, 7pm – free

34 Warren Avenue Boston, MA 02116 (Allen Hall)
Community Music Center of Boston
phone: 617-482-7494
fax: 617-482-6267

Named in memory of John Kleshinski, former Music Center Board President and
student, our concerts provide a great opportunity for everyone to enjoy a diverse
sampling of musical instruments and genres. Our informal and family-friendly
concerts are free and run approximately ninety minutes in length.

Please join us at Community Music Center of Boston for musical performances of
exceptional quality, featuring our Award-Winning faculty, guest artists and
advanced students.

The Great Hunger Tour is sponsored by:

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