- The Brendan Theme
- Jig: Water under the Keel
- Journey to the Faroes
- The Cliffs of Mykines
- Mykines Sound
- Journey to Iceland
- The Gale
Engineers Assistant: Pearse Dunne
Produced by Shaun Davey
Production Assistant: Judy Lunny
Design and Layout: Design Warehouse.
Special Thanks to: Carolyn Evans-Tipping for assistance and advice during preparation and recording.
Front Cover Painting: Pat Musick.
Other works by Pat Musick can be viewed online at www.musickstudio.com
Tim Severin's book, The Brendan Voyage, is available from Gill & Macmillan.
All music publishing rights: Shaun Davey.
'The critical and popular success of The Brendan
Voyage was as ground-breaking as the music itself. Over the years
its power as a single, self-contained suite for Uilleann pipes,
Orchestra and Rhythm Section has remained undiminished while the
progress of the Celtic Music Renaissance has confirmed not only
its author's visionary genius but the status of this one work as
an absolute cornerstone for so many subsequent developments. Subsequent
years have seen others paint on the pallet of Davey's dream, but
in my view there is still only one master of the form. Regularly
lauded as a populist with integrity, a visionary, a serious artist,
an unsung hero at the very dawn of the current Celtic music explosion,
Shaun Davey is all of these things and more..."
Colin Harper, Q Magazine, August 1997
The Brendan Suite is a series of pieces based on the
story contained in The Brendan Voyage by Tim Severin. Though a great
adventure in itself, Severin's voyage had the serious purpose of
discovering if St. Brendan's sixth century voyage, as told in a
medieval manuscript, could have been possible. The mention of a
leather boat and an extravagance of apparent fantasy led scholars
to dismiss the possibility that Brendan, the Abbot of Clonfert,
may have reached America long before the Norsemen. Nonetheless,
the legend remained and it was the reality behind the myth that
Severin and his crew explored in the replica medieval boat, `Brendan'.
For myself, I must confess that while Severin's expedition proved
that it is very possible that St. Brendan reached America in a leather
boat, I have the greatest difficulty in comprehending the sheer
act of faith that was required of early explorers: I chose instead
to take the hard facts and images of Severin's voyage to convert
into musical terms, and modern culture, so I have tried to find
some meeting points between old and contemporary forms of music.
Naturally much of the beauty of the subject lies in the presence
of those, we hope, eternal elements; the sea, sky and the creatures
that inhabit them. These, along with the character of the boat and
the bravery and determination of her crew prevented the composition
from ever approaching any kind of mere academic exercise. The only
academic exercise involved was the hard graft of learning to work
in terms of an orchestral score plus the task of discovering the
nature of the instrument chosen to represent the boat, the uilleann
pipes which, for those unfamiliar with them, I shall describe. The
lineage of the Irish or uilleann pipes extends back through the
centuries far across Europe. They differ from Scottish bagpipes
firstly in that their wind is supplied by bellows secured to the
player's arm rather than from a bag, which he blows into, and secondly
in that they have a far more sophisticated system of keys and chanters
with which to produce notes. They are designed for playing while
sitting down, preferably in sheltered places such as parlours or
sitting rooms and are not the sort of instrument to take for walks
over mountains. In this sense their function can be seen to be different
from their Scottish (and for that matter Bulgarian, Rumanian and
Turkish) relations: like their first cousin the Northumberland pipes,
uilleann pipes are more sophisticated, more intimate, and are in
fact a chamber instrument in the literal sense. Yet unlike other
European chamber instruments, the repertoire of the uilleann pipes
has remained rooted in traditional rather than classical idioms.
Its repertoire has been transmitted by ear rather than on the written
page and pipers have tended to remain a select breed who have taken
seriously their obligation to preserve a traditional repertoire
for the sake of future generations. And the fact is that despite
their enormous expressive power and eloquence, the pipes are an
instrument that has rarely found itself within the orchestral fold.
Times change, however, and in attempting to set the pipes in an orchestral scheme I have done so with an awareness that at all times true traditional music was never so far apart from other traditions, and vice versa, as is popularly believed. Having said that, it is worth pointing out that anyone who writes for the pipes sooner or later comes up against the inherent limitations of the instrument. For example, the chanter is capable of producing a chromatic scale but it does so reluctantly. In addition, certain intervals can cause the player more than his share of anxiety. So straight away it can be seen that some sequences of notes fit better than others, and that the faster the passage the more critical the choice becomes. The solution to getting pipe music to flow is very often the use of grace notes, which results in the very same configurations that characterise traditional music. Hence anyone who attempts to move the pipes away from their traditional context will find himself frequently at frontiers, which cannot in fact be crossed. The best chance one has, it seems to me, is to give the pipes the respect they are due, keep them in their strong keys, D.G. Am and Em, and to build in the pivot notes that render a piece playable. As these are known, by and large, only to the piper himself, this brings me to the point where I must express my deep gratitude to Liam O'Flynn, for whom the piece was written. Not only did he make the inner workings of the pipes accessible, but it was he who found the solutions to the many problems contained in the bare tunes I gave him. His readiness to explore new avenues made the whole venture possible. The first draft of the Brendan Suite was recorded in RTE for the radio programme ‘The Living Bridge'. The amended and completed version is recorded on this album and I must thank conductors and orchestras for their help as well as the Living Bridge's producer, Harry Bradshaw, for his support. I thank also my first wife, Agnes, for her encouragement and suggestions, and the many people who have assisted the production of this album.
Shaun Davey, 1980
Following it's first live performance at Tombee de la Nuit, Rennes and the Lorient Interceltic Festival in 1982, The Brendan Voyage has been performed in concert halls around the world, including The Sydney Opera House and The Royal Albert Hall, London. It has been performed by Liam O'Flynn with;- the ECO at the Royal Festival Hall, London, the SCO in Edinburgh, the Ulster Orchestra in Belfast, the Northern Sinfonia in Newcastle, the Munich Radio Orchestra, the Quebec Symphony Orchestra, the Staten Island Symphony Orchestra, on tour with the RTECO in Cologne and at Seville Expo 1994; at the Tonder festival, Denmark. Continues to be performed by the RTE Concert Orchestra and the RTE National Symphony Orchestra, and has for several years featured in the Irish school curriculum.
Introduction (1.11): The starting point of the voyage was Brandon Creek in Co. Kerry, a tiny, harbour barely protected from the Atlantic.
The Brendan Theme (4.09): Throughout the suite the pipes represent the boat. Here, where they enter, the ‘Brendan’ floats newly-launched and, as the orchestra joins the pipes, tentatively sets sail for the first time.
Jig: Water Under The Keel (2.29): Running before the wind, the ‘Brendan’ is capable of quiet a turn of speed. The crew discover this for the first time in the Minch channel between the Outer Hebrides and the west coast of Scotland.
Journey to the Faroes (4.02): Clouds pile up on the horizon above the distant islands. As the boat nears the Faroes it is swallowed by a swirling mist and caught by a powerful current that draws it in towards the hidden coast; the sounds of birds through the mist; the mist rises to reveal cliffs.
The Cliffs of Mykines (4.01): This continues out of the previous section. The cliffs are immensely high and wind and tide drive ‘Brendan’ sideways towards them. Thousands of birds swarm around the cliff face and at one point a whale surfaces ahead of the boat. Finally, to escape the danger of the cliffs, the boat has to run the gauntlet of a tide rip; ‘Rounding the headland’ is the point where the pipes return.
Mykines Sound (3.27): The pipes continue with a reel as the boat rushes down a narrow channel between two of the Faroe islands, unable to turn into the safety of a harbour, for fear of capsizing in a powerful following sea. The ‘Brendan’ was swept once more out into the Atlantic before eventaully being able to reach land.
Journey to Iceland (3.54): From the Faroes the boat sets off for Iceland. On the way it is the subject of fascination for a great variety of fish, including whales and dolphins. The middle section is a dialogue between the ‘Brendan’ and layers of fish in the waters below. The pipes use a C chanter to enable them to play in a lower and more mellow key.
The Gale (4.04): Inevitably ‘Brendan’ and her crew had to weather storms, but none so ferocious as those in the waters off Greenland. Here the wind builds the sea into a procession of gigantic Atlantic rollers with the boat, like the pipes, bending to the pressure but refusing to be overwhelmed.
Labrador (8.38): After sailing through fog into the clearer air of the ice edge off the coast of Labrador, the ‘Brendan’ has to run through open pack ice; a kind of ballet ensues between the frail-skinned boat and monster icebergs. After inevitable collisions, the crew believe the boat has escaped unscathed but, on sailing into clearer water discover that the leather hull is holed and sinking. A solo pipe lament marks the spot. With their arms in freezing water the crew repair the hole and, by now close to exhaustion, make their way towards the coast of Newfoundland. The section closes with the return of the birds that signify the nearness of land.
Newfoundland (4.55): The pipes lead in a variation of the main theme to celebrate the boat’s arrival in the New World and the end of the voyage.