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Music and the Irish Imagination

 | 
Thierry Dubost
, 
Alexandra Slaby

Playing Irish music

Lute Music as a Reflection of Political Destiny: A Telltale Comparison between Ireland and Scotland in the 16th and 17th Centuries

Jacques Tranier

Résumé

When the lute was the prominent courtly instrument in Europe, the diffusion of its repertoire and technique is now a telltale clue that tells us much about the way historical circumstances shape the production of music in a given country. Most significantly, the importance given to lute playing points to the degree of openness of a country to contemporary mainstream culture. In Ireland lute music was confined to the Pale and consists for the most part of Elizabethan pieces, while in Scotland the lute repertoire comprises music which reflects the economic and cultural ties with the Continent wrought by a sovereign nation – France, Flanders and Italy. Remarkably, many traditional Scottish tunes found their way into lute manuscripts, thus making up a truly unique repertoire for the instrument, while Irish lute manuscripts totally ignore native Irish music, ruthlessly repressed in the 16th and 17th centuries. The destruction of the Gaelic aristocracy reduced court musicians employed by Irish lords to the status of itinerant minstrels and never gave them an opportunity to be acquainted with the lute, whereas Scotland was fully integrated into mainstream European culture.

Aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles, quand le luth était l’instrument de cour dominant en Europe, la diffusion de son répertoire et de sa technique a constitué un indice révélateur de la manière dont les circonstances historiques déterminent la production de la musique dans un pays donné. Fait révélateur, l’importance attribuée à la pratique du luth indique le degré d’ouverture d’un pays à la culture dominante du temps. En Irlande, la musique pour luth se trouve confinée au territoire sous juridiction anglaise et consiste pour l’essentiel en pièces élisabéthaines, donc anglaises, alors qu’en Écosse le répertoire pour luth comprend de la musique reflétant les liens économiques et culturels qu’établit avec le continent une nation souveraine : France, Flandres et Italie. Il est remarquable de constater que nombre d’airs traditionnels écossais se retrouvent dans les manuscrits de pièces pour luth, créant ainsi un répertoire vraiment unique destiné à cet instrument, alors que les manuscrits irlandais pour luth ignorent complètement la musique irlandaise autochtone, impitoyablement réprimée aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles. La destruction de l’aristocratie gaélique réduisit à l’état de musiciens itinérants les musiciens de cour au service de seigneurs irlandais et ne leur permit jamais de se familiariser avec le luth, tandis que l’Écosse se trouva parfaitement intégrée à la haute culture continentale de l’époque.

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Extrait du texte

Paradoxically, much will be said of lute playing in Scotland, and little about Ireland. However, this is not a case of missing the point. The two Celtic nations were the targets of English expansionism from the Middle Ages onwards. But there was no Irish equivalent of the battle of Bannockburn which put paid to English designs on Scotland in 1314, for a few centuries at least. Though Scotland remained embroiled in English politics until the 1707 Act of Union, she retained a good measure of political and cultural independence. Conversely, Ireland was unable to resist English expansion westward and had to yield to English supremacy organised in such a way as to make cultural intercourse all but impossible. The phrase “beyond the Pale” exemplifies the deep cultural and political divide between the native Irish and their new masters.

The consequences of such historical developments on local musical life in Ireland and Scotland can be measured with regard to lute playing, the touchstone o...

Auteur

Jacques Tranier is an Associate Professor at the université de Caen – Basse-Normandie. In 1997, he completed a doctoral thesis on the contemporary Irish playwright Brian Friel dealing with the tragic. He has published articles and book chapters on contemporary Irish theatre and theatrical adaptations by Irish playwrights.

© Presses universitaires de Caen, 2013

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540

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