Seán Ó Riada was the founder of the modern school (which is to say, the authentic ancient style of playing) of Irish folk music and, equally important, a vital nationalistic voice in the orchestral music of Ireland. Best known today as a composer, he was also present at the recording of the first album by the Chieftains, and founded the folk chamber orchestra Ceoltoiri Cualann, Paddy Moloney’s group before forming the Chieftains.
Seán Ó Riada (or John Reidy, in English) was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1931, and attended University College, Cork. He received his Bachelor of Music degree in 1952, and served as assistant music director for Radio Eireann in 1954 and 1955. In 1955, he became the music director of the Abbey Theater in Dublin, a post he held until 1962. The following year, he became a lecturer at University College, Cork, a post he held until his death in 1971. During this period, he composed prolifically in all areas, including music for plays, two ballets, various orchestral suites and symphonic pieces, several choral works, masses, chamber pieces, and piano works, and three notable pieces of film music.
Among his generation of Irish composers, Ó Riada was the most deeply involved with traditional Irish music. Curiously, however, most of his works for the concert hall utilized no folk material, and some of it — most notably Nomos No. 1, is a contrapuntal piece that uses 12-tone (“serialist”) technique. Nomos No. 2 utilizes a text drawn from Sophocles’ Theban plays in its reflections on life and death and the history of music, and includes a quotation from Mozart’s Symphony No. 41. Ó Riada was just as likely to look back to Mozart, Beethoven, or Brahms as to his own nation’s musical heritage.
Ó Riada also prepared numerous arrangements of traditional Irish songs, and in the late ’50s he organized Ceoltoiri Cualann, a folk chamber orchestra whose membership consisted of the best traditional musicians in Ireland. Ó Riada’s group performed Irish folk music stripped of all its then-typical pop inflections and sentimentality. The earliest versions of the melodies and dances served as the source material, and the group played them with a natural lilt and an abandon that came from deep within the music’s origins; the airs, in particular, stripped of their modern inflections, came across with even greater poignancy than anyone had recognized in them in decades. It was out of this group that Paddy Moloney formed the Chieftains in the early ’60s, a smaller, more flexible ensemble that eventually brought this new/old vision of Irish music to the world. Ó Riada was with the Chieftains on their first album, and some three years after his death, his composition “Women of Ireland,” as used in the 1974 Stanley Kubrick movie Barry Lyndon, broke the group in America, garnering considerable radio play and network television time for them. His own film scores included the music for three documentaries — I Am Ireland, Freedom, and The Living Fire — and Brian Desmond Hurst’s 1962 feature film, Playboy of the Western World.
Ó Riada’s other great contribution to Irish folk music lay in the realm of orchestral composition. While England had composers such as Gustav Holst, George Butterworth, and, most important, Ralph Vaughan Williams, who used English folk music as the basis for some of their most successful orchestral compositions, Irish music never quite achieved the same degree of prominence as a source for serious orchestral music — not until Ó Riada came along. Although his most serious compositions drew from German and Austrian inspirations, he also took up authentic Irish music as a basis for composition in several of his works, and ended up doing for Irish folk music what Vaughan Williams did for English music. His work has been compared to that of Gustav Mahler, for his ability to paint orchestral pictures with rich colors and sparse austerity, and also to Sibelius in its nationalist sentiments.
At one memorable concert, in Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre in March 1969, Ó Riada produced a new piece, a song entitled Mná na hÉireann (Women of Ireland). The music composed by Ó Riada was to accompany an eighteenth century poem by Peadar Ó Doirnín, whose bicentenary was the occasion for the concert. Seán Ó Sé sang the song but it is today more commonly recognised in Ireland as an instrumental. Ó Riada died in 1971 at the tragically young age of forty. His legacy also includes the enormous Irish success of his music for the film Mise Éire (I am Ireland). It made Ó Riada a household name, and raised the status of Irish music amongst a section of society who had never taken any interest in it before. Guided by his vision, traditional music changed radically, and became accessible to a modern Irish audience, and through this traditional music the cultural life of Ireland was invigorated.
Biography of Seán Ó Riada
Seán Ó Riada was born in Cork on August Ist, 1931, while his father, a sergeant in the Garda Síochana, was stationed in Adare, Co. Limerick. His mother was Julia Creedon from Kilnamartyra in the Barony of West Muskerry, and his father Sean Reidy of Kilmihil, Co. Clare. Both were of farming stock with strong cultural traditions; she a concertina and melodian player with many of the songs of her area, and he having once studied the fiddle with Patrick Kelly. Ó Riada’s cradle songs were “Codlaigi Einini” from his father and “Cois an Ghaorthaidh” from his mother.
At the age of four he went to the Christian Brothers’ School in Adare. His first teacher was Brother Long from Dingle, who set the foundation for his strong passion for the Irish language. At the age of seven he got his first violin lesson from Granville Metcalfe who used to come out to Adare from Limerick once a week to teach music. A year later he began to study the piano. When he was ten he joined the Limerick Club and performed with them until he left Adare to go to boarding school. During this period he also studied theory, counterpoint and harmony with Professor Van de Veld. In 1943 he won a scholarship to Farrenferris Seminary School in Cork, from where he matriculated in 1947, and, being too young to enter University, he spent the following year in St. Munchins in Limerick where he took his Leaving Certificate.
He entered U.C.C. in 1948 on a scholarship and read first Arts with Music as a subject. He also took Greek, Latin and Irish. U.C.C. in those days was small, and exciting because of the number of foreign students who flocked there after the Second World War. Ó Riada plunged into a wide course of reading and talking which was oriented towards the ancient and modern cultures of Europe. In 1957 he graduated with honours in Music.
In September, 1953 he married Ruth Coghlan and they had seven children, Peadar, Reitseal, Eoghan, Alasdar, Cathal, Sorcha, Liadh. The last two children were born after he had moved to the Gaeltacht but the whole family were brought up through Irish.
Also in 1953 he was appointed Assistant Director of Music in Radio Eireann.
Dr. Arthur Young was his Co-Assistant Director, and in those good old days they graciously attended symphony concerts and gave short shrift to various “trad fids” who came up for audition, and also to various deputations from the country, including a very persistent petitioner from Cuil Aodha, whose house Sean was destined to buy ten years later.
O Riada resigned from Radio Eireann in 1955, and, in a logical extension to all of his classical reading and studies, took off to starve in a garret in Paris. Here he met many artists and musicians through R.D.T.F. But here also he turned towards the Aisling which had been hovering over all his life and he ended up by saying to his wife “I’d rather be breaking stones in Ireland than be the richest man living in Europe”.
Back in Dublin, he began the most prolific period of his life, starting with many arrangements for the Radio Eireann Singers and Light Orchestra, doing original compositions for Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Orchestra, writing for solo voice and for piano. During this time he was working as Music Director of the Abbey Theatre. This position gave him a good deal of spare time and allowed him to do many radio broadcasts and to work on incidental music for films.
Side by side with the flowering of O Riada’s European classical creativity another theme began to emerge during those seven years. The spirit of this theme was first expressed in the music which he wrote for the film Mise Eire. The impact of this particular music on the nation in 1959 was dramatic and immediate and it marked the beginning of 0 Riada’s rapport with the people of Ireland and their culture. He began a deep study of Irish traditional music which resulted in a radio series entitled “Our Musical Heritage”. He proceeded to experiment with combinations of musicians to evolve Ceoltoiri Chualann. This group was first presented to the public as a folk or traditional orchestra providing the incidental music for the Abbey Theatre presentation of the Honey Spike, a play by Brian Mc Mahon. Their first formal appearance as a stage group was at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin on ……….
While he was still in Dublin, he made his first contact with the Gaeltacht when he spent the summer of 1959 with his family in Bru na Gráige (Corca Dhuibhne) at the invitation of an tAthair Tadhg 0 Murchu. it was after this visit, which made a deep impression on them, that the 0 Riadas began to hold the now famous Ceilidhe at their home in Galloping Green, which brought together all the strands of Sean’s various interests – muintir na Gaeltachta, traditional and classical musicians, poets, diplomats, plumbers and business men.
Finally, and once more in a logical extension of his cultural development, he resigned from the Abbey in 1962 and moved to Corca Dhuibhne where he lived for a year doing freelance work for R.T.E. and writing for the “Irish Times”, until in October, 1963 he was appointed assistant lecturer in Music at University College, Cork.
On his appointment he moved to Cuil Aodha to live in An Draighean. Here, ten miles from where his mother was born, 0 Riada felt he had come home. Henceforth he regarded all trips to Cork, Dublin, Belfast, Edinburgh, London, Canada, America for lectures, concerts, recordings and festivals, in the nature of forages from his home base to bring back spoils and to further the interests of the Naisiun Gaolach. He made 16mm. films, wrote music, went fishing, studied Indian and Oriental Music, sat on National Commissions and committees, and generally was deeply involved in the community. He formed a choir and and wrote his first Mass for them. His fascination with things spiritual led him to write a further two Masses (Glenstall and an Irish Government commissioned Requem). He died on the 3rd of October, 1971 in Kings College Hospital after a short illness brought on by the effect of excessive alcohol use on an inhereited weak liver. He lies buried in Reilig Gobnatan.
Seán Ó Riada – Pléaráca an Riadaigh
Featuring the music of:
Seán Ó Riada, Ceoltóirí Chualann, Darach Ó Catháin and Seán Ó Sé
Released on: 09 March 2009
Label: Gael Linn
This is a 3 CD Set of three albums which each marked a milestone in the development of Irish traditional music. With Ceoltóirí Chualann, Darach Ó Catháin and Seán Ó Sé, Seán Ó Riada embarked on a journey of discovery. Each of the three albums was conceived as a unique concept:
Disk 1 – Reacaireacht an Riadaigh:
Music, song and recitations form the basis of this album. Ó Riada presented a radio programme using the format of a fireside entertainment. The album features the singing of Connemara sean-nós singer Darach Ó Catháin, Ceoltóirí Chualann and short pieces spoken by Seán Ó Riada.
There is a vibrancy and freshness to this album, Ó Riada’s inaugural release with Ceoltóirí Chualann. The playing of Ronnie Mc Shane on percussion and of Sonny Brogan on accordion is noteworthy.
Disk 2 – Ceol na nUasal:
This album features music of the aristocracy, and that of Turlough O’Carolan, in particular. Seán Ó Sé is the singer. As this beautiful music had been neglected for many years, the sensitive arrangements by Seán Ó Riada captured the public imagination and led to a revival of interest in this aspect of traditional music.
Disk 3 – Ding Dong:
The singing of Seán Ó Sé is to the fore on this album and Ó Riada’s arrangements are masterful. This is music for the concert hall with the emphasis on entertainment. This is seen to great effect in the track Raithineach a Bhean Bheag, where the musicians play with great exuberance.
Review from An Spaílpín Fánach:
One of the more notorious of RTÉ’s acts of cultural vandalism over the years is the decision to wipe all TV tape of Seán Ó Riada from the archives. Now, An Spailpín is getting worried that the damage is even more extensive than we thought.
Gael Linn, as part of their policy of re-releasing Seán Ó Riada’s albums over the past few years, have released three more, as a triple CD set called Pléaráca an Riadaigh. These are three original studio recordings of Ó Riada at the height of his powers – Reacaireacht an Riadaigh, Ceol na nUasal and Ding Dong. But what’s bothering An Spailpín is a throwaway reference in the sleeve notes to a weekly radio show that Ó Riada did for RTÉ in the sixties. Reacaireacht an Riadaigh, the first of these albums to be recorded, is essentially a collection of the greatest hits of that radio series and if they’ve all been wiped since like the TV recordings – well, it’s a scandal is what it is.
With the country going down the tubes at a rate of knots this Christmas it’s good – if not vital – to be reminded of why it was all worthwhile in the first place. Why the Irish deserved independence; what separated us from the other three kingdoms. And Pléaráca an Riadaigh helps us explain part of it.
Seán Ó Riada is part of the landscape now but it’s always important to remember just how revolutionary his approach was. Irish music had no respect in the general population before him; Ó Riada’s great gift was to be able to show how the ancient airs have their place in the pantheon of world music, before that phrase was even invented. For anyone who wants to know who we are and where we came from Pléaráca an Riadaigh is an essential purchase.
Funnily enough, the sleeve notes are the most disappointing aspect of the whole presentation. Other Ó Riada releases have included full lyrics for the songs in the sleeve notes. This does not, and their loss is keenly felt. All the more so because it is Darach Ó Catháín, not Seán Ó Sé, who does the singing on Reachtaireacht an Riadaigh.
What makes this significant is the fact that Darach Ó Catháin was a sean-nós singer. Sean-nós is the diametric opposite of easy listening music. Sean-nós is hard work. The best way to approach it is to realise just how very old it is – it’s a medieval form of music, really. It’s solo chanting more than singing. It does not record well, and soft chat about sean-nós being the soul music of Ireland doesn’t cut it. It’s a terrible pity that Gael Linn didn’t see fit to print the lyrics, or the words of the pices spoken by Seán ÓRiada himself. Certain hollow men in the media like to speak of “spoken Irish”; An Spailpín is pretty sure that he is not alone in thinking it’s easier when it’s written down.
And for those who would actually benefit from printed lyrics…
Ar éigean gur féidir léirmheas mar is ceart a dhéanamh ar an saothar seo ó Sheán Ó Riada, Ceoltóirí Chualann, Seán* Ó Sé agus Darach Ó Catháin atá ath éisithe faoi ghradam ag Gael Linn.** Is cirte a rá gur ar éigean gur féidir liomsa léirmheas a dhéanamh ar a leitheid nó táím tar éis éisteacht leis roinnt mhaith ó fuaireas é agus mé ag freastal ar an Oireachtas mí ó shin.
Agus tá sé glórmhar.* Tá sé chomh h-úr anois is a bhí an uair úd nuair a eisíodh na ceirníní atá sa bhosca seo, Reacaireacht an Riadaigh (1962), Ceol na nUasal (1967) agus Ding Dong (1967).* Ceol réabhlóideach a bhí ann an uair sin nó d’iompaigh sé tuiscint an phobail ar cheol thraidisiúnta droim ar ais agus suas síos.
Bhíos ag éisteacht leis le déanaí agus mé ar mo bhealach go Beanntrai ait a raibh m’athair, Dónal* Ó Liatháin, file, san oisbidéal.* Thóg sé mo spiorad agus mé ar an dturas uaigneach sin agus a fhios agam im chroí istigh gur féidir narbh fhada a bheadh m’athair ar an saol seo. Cailleadh é go luath ina dhiaidh sin, Beannacht Dé leis.
Trí m’athair a chuireas aithne ar Sheán Ó Riada agus ar cheoltóirí Chualann agus freisin ar Dharach Ó Cathain agus ar Sheán Ó Sé.** Bhíos an óg ar fad nuair a cailleadh Seán Ó Riada ach chasas le Darach Ó Catháin agus an chuid eile acu ag ocáid sa Cheol Aras Náisiúnta i 1987 in omós an Riadaigh.
Sin iad na cuimhní a mhúscail an ceirnín seo ionam.* Laethannta glórmhara nó mar a bhaist Tony McMahon orthu ag oíche nach n-éagfaidh óm chuimhne sa Cheolaras, Laethannta an Cheoil, na Fíona agus na Rósanna.
Cuimhním freisin gur ar eigean go bhféadfá ceol traidisiúnta a thabhairt ar an cheol a sheinn Ceoltóirí Chualann.* Ag an am ar thosnaigh siad ag seinnt ba rud réabhlóideach bheith ag seinnt a leitheid nó bhí an ceol traidisiúnta díbeartha as radharc agus as raon an chluais de bharr an sórt atmaisféar frith Ghaelach a bhí ann ag an am.* Chomh maith le sin, bhí an ceol a sheinn Ceoltóírí Chualann faoi stiur agus le spreagadh an Riadaigh chomh úr is chomh láidir go raibh sé réabhlóideach.
Tá moladh mór ag dul do Ghael Linn as eagrán chomh brea den bhailiúchán seo a eisiúint anois.* Ar ndóigh, tá roinnt mhaith de shean chartlann Uí Riada éisithe acu roimhe seo, cuid acu le rianta nua orthu nár chualathas roimhe seo.** Bheadh an bhosca cheirníní seo ina sheod in aon bhailiúchán ceoil.
CD1 – Reacaireacht an Riadaigh (1962):
1. An long faoi lán seoil
2. Caiptín Ó Máille
3. ‘Ní reacaireacht gan reacaire’ (caint)
4. An buachaill sa bhád
5. Liam Ó Raghallaigh
6. ‘An té mholas an éigse’ (caint)
7. Cuan Bhéil Innse /Port an deoraí
8. Amhrán an tae
9. ‘Caint na n-éan’ (caint)
10. Ag scaipeadh na gcleití
11. Sail Óg Rua
‘Mo ghile mear’ (caint)
13. Spailpín a Rúin
14. An lon dubh
15. Peigín Leitir Móir
CD2 – Ceol na nUasal (1967):
1. Caitlín Triail
2. Comhsheinm Uí Chearbhalláin
3. Pléaráca na Ruarcach
4. Planxty Maguire
5. An chúilfhionn
6. Thugamar féin an samhradh linn
7. Ag taisteal na Blárnan
8. Tabhair dom do lámh
9. Seán Ó Dighe
CD3 – Ding Dong (1967):
1. Raca breá mo chinn
2. The rights of man
3. The boys of Kilmichael
4. The rolling wave /Raithineach a bhean bheag
5. Táimse ar an mbaile seo
6. Leitrim fancy
7. Ding dong dedaró /Ríl mór Bhaile an Chalaidh
8. Valley of Knockanure
mp3 vbr >256k. no covers.