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Five Irish Songs

First line:
For thee I shall not die

The Five Irish Songs (1972) were commissioned by Lady Mayer for the 1973 Cork International Choral Festival and first performed on 4 May that year by the RTÉ Singers conducted by H W Rosen. Maw has commented: ‘I wanted to set Irish texts for this occasion and chose most of these poems from the Oxford Book of Irish Verse. As usual, I chose a poem for a particular point in the set for which I could write a suitable character of music appropriate to that moment in the work.’ Of these, the first, second and fourth are settings of Irish folk poems that have been freely translated into English verse by Douglas Hyde (Nos 1 and 4) and Samuel Ferguson (No 2) respectively, whilst the third is a popular anonymous Anglo-Irish ballad of the nineteenth century, and the last a poem by C Day Lewis.

‘I shall not die for thee’ is a diatribe by a man determined not to fall for a particular woman’s beauty and charms. The music features suitably severe harmony and musical imagery in the melodic lines, for instance, the spiky quavers at ‘sharp wit’ and florid evocation of her ‘blue eye’. ‘Dear dark head’ is a passionate love song, featuring a tenor solo aching with ardour and sensuous harmony to heighten words, for instance, at ‘mouth of honey’.

‘Popular song’ has a swinging folksong-like melody, with a jaunty underlying choral accompaniment, as the would-be lover tries to steal a kiss from the object of his desire. Maw later discovered that this ballad ‘had a charming tune of its own that bears a strong rhythmic resemblance to mine, as well as several more verses that deal with the young man’s unrequited love for a girl from Bunclody and subsequent decision to emigrate to America. Who would have guessed such an outcome from this blithe opening?’

‘Ringleted youth of my love’ is another love song in which the lover laments that his beloved is absent in tender and caressing music. The last song, ‘Jig’, Maw suggests, ‘introduces a note of urban sophistication into the praise of country life and love and the changing seasons.’ It provides a light-hearted finale, setting words laced with wry wit to a winning tune that is passed around the voices.

from notes by Andrew Burn © 2007


Maw: One foot in Eden still, I stand & other choral works
CDA67615Archive Service


No 1: I shall not die for thee  For thee I shall not die
author of text
traditional Irish
translator of text

Track 14 on CDA67615 [3'04] Archive Service
No 2: Dear dark head  Put your head, darling
author of text
traditional Irish
translator of text

Track 15 on CDA67615 [3'07] Archive Service
No 3: Popular song  Were I at the Moss House where the birds do increase
author of text
mid nineteenth century

Track 16 on CDA67615 [1'11] Archive Service
No 4: Ringleted youth of my love
author of text
traditional Irish
translator of text

Track 17 on CDA67615 [4'36] Archive Service
No 5: Jig  That winter love spoke and we raise no objection, at
author of text
The Complete Poems by C Day Lewis, Sinclair-Stevenson (1992)

Track 18 on CDA67615 [3'13] Archive Service

Track-specific metadata for CDA67615 track 14

I shall not die for thee
Recording date
14 March 2000
Recording venue
Exeter College Chapel, Oxford, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Nick Flower
Recording engineer
Mike Skeet
Hyperion usage
  1. Maw: One foot in Eden still, I stand & other choral works (CDA67615)
    Disc 1 Track 14
    Release date: January 2007
    Deletion date: October 2021
    Archive Service
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