It’s often mere serendipity that sends us off on wild goose chases in the Celtic knot that is the Internet. And such is the case with this lovely version of an oft performed favourite of the Irish diaspora, Oh Danny Boy. My friend Richard drew my attention to it and remarked on the sensitive singing of John Brancy and the lovely piano accompaniment by Peter Dugan.
Of course this led to me searching the origins of this most Irish of ditties – only to find that the lyrics were penned by an Englishman and a lawyer to boot! Though his profession was that of a barrister Frederic Weatherly’s legacy is the over 3000 lyrics he wrote for hymns, ballads and popular songs. His first success was in 1892 with The Holy City – a much beloved anthem that I recall singing in my boy soprano days. Weatherly was also the lyricist for many popular songs during the First Great War including the lovely Roses of Picady.
When Weatherly first penned the lyrics of Danny Boy in 1910 it was set to a melody other than the familiar Londonderry Air. It was only after he had been sent a copy of the Irish folk melody by his sister-in-law Margaret, Irish-born but residing in the United States, that he adapted the lyrics to fit the familiar melody’s meter.
The melody of what is now called The Londonderry Air has been used in many forms – folk song, hymns, pop and love songs. It’s appeared in symphonic suites, movie scores, cartoons and, I’m told, a video game. The originals have been much discussed and are briefly outlined in the Wikipedia entry and more exhaustively in Brian Audley’s study for the Royal Music Association.
Whatever it’s origins it still can bring a lump to the throat particularly when sung and played so beautifully as it is here.
As a side note Mr Brancy will be singing Figaro in the Marriage of said character here in Ottawa with Opera Lyra in March.