The publication of the first volume of Irish Melodies in 1807 set the seal on his success, giving him a position in society similar to that of today’s rock stars. The poet, who already moved in the highest circles, was lionised now as an after-dinner performer in the most exclusive drawing-rooms, as contemporary reports tell us. When he commenced, every breath was almost hushed, lest a note should be lost. (Eliza Rennie). He appears to have had the knack of seeming to improvise his accompaniment, creating an extraordinary intimacy and bond with his listeners. His delivery of the words rich and delicious……..his fingers seemed accidentally to drop on the keys, producing a simple harmony just sufficient to support the voice. (William Gardiner). According to another commentator, the American N P Willis, the sentiment of the song goes through your blood, warming you to the very eyelids, and starting your tears, if you have soul or sense in you.
And this was no fly-by-night success. On 20th June, 1831,Thomas Creevey wrote to Miss Ord, Yesterday I dined in Portland Place and went in the evening to Downing Street [official home of the Prime Minister, Lord Grey], where I found Tommy Moore at the pianoforte, playing and singing his own melodies; and very much delighted I was with his performance.
But not even the secret, subversive allusions in Oh! Breathe not his Name to Moore's fellow-student at Trinity, Robert Emmet who was hanged (and beheaded once dead) in 1803 following his ill-fated rebellion, or to Emmet’s beloved, Sarah Curran in She is far from the Land where her young Hero sleeps, could diminish Moore’s popularity.
Chloe, Ann and Cynthia were gathered around the pianoforte, comparing music and trying snatches of melody. Once the gentlemen had arrived, Cynthia took her seat at the harp and they embarked on a selection of Mr Moore’s Irish melodies, at times singing together, at times each one taking a solo verse. Their voices blended charmingly and, when they finished with a poignant yet defiant rendition of The Minstrel Boy there was heartfelt applause and congratulations.
There are hundreds if not thousands of versions of Moore’s songs on YouTube. I have selected two which to me best convey his original intention.
If you overlook the orchestra and the uileann pipes, there is a charm and simplicity about this performance of The Last Rose of Summer by a young Charlotte Church that seems to reach back to those Regency drawing-rooms
You will find many bombastic, martial renditions of The Minstrel Boy but this a capella version, sung by 0’Brien (Colm Meaney) in the episode The Wounded of Star Trek—The Next Generation is my favourite.
The Melodies were published in ten volumes between 1807 and 1837. The portrait of Thomas Moore and text of Oh! Breathe not his Name are from the 1819 five volume set of his works published in Paris by Galignani in 1819 which includes the lyrics of volumes 1 to VII of the Melodies. The Melodies with their settings were published in foolscap size scores by W Power's Music Warehouse, Westmoreland Street, Dublin and J Power's Music and Instrument Warehouse, 34 Strand, London. The early volumes were luxury items, priced at 15 shillings each (around £47 today).
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