Barry Douglas knows a few things about handing down traditions. In this Tiny Desk performance, he passes along the musical heritage of his Irish homeland in the form of old Celtic songs he's arranged for solo piano.
Douglas has also been on the receiving end of tradition. If you set up a kind of Ancestry.com for pianists, Douglas could claim a pretty impressive pedigree. One of his teachers, Felicitas LeWinter, studied with a pupil of Franz Liszt. Another of his tutors, Maria Curcio, was taught by Artur Schnabel, whose teacher's teacher was a man named Beethoven. All that training helped Douglas take home the gold medal at the 1986 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow.
Douglas starts with the oldest of the songs, "The Coolin," which in its original language (An Chúileann) translates to "The Fair-Haired Girl." The lyric can be traced back to about 1641, while the melody itself, some argue, is even older. He dresses the tune in Baroque trills and a theme and variations format displaying a variety of moods.
Two quick tunes follow. The hard-driving "Planxty Dillon" is a dance that dates from the early 18th century. And "The Raggle Taggle Gypsy," of similar vintage, originates in Scotland but quickly became popular in England and North America under alternate titles such as "Black Jack Davy."
Douglas finishes with "My Lagan Love," a song of dubious origins yet covered by everyone from John McCormack and Sinéad O'Connor to Pete Seeger and Dusty Springfield. Inspired by the river Lagan in Ireland's northern Donegal (hear the rippling in Douglas' left hand), the song defines the melancholy Irish air, making a direct hit on the heart.
Celtic Reflections is available now. (iTunes) (Amazon)
Producers: Tom Huizenga, Niki Walker; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Niki Walker, Kara Frame; Production Assistant: Jackson Sinnenberg; Photo: Emily Bogle/NPR.
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