Students fulfil ‘genius’ composer’s dying wish
The Sunday Times
Lorna Siggins | 12th July
(Freddie May’s score has been typeset for four separate instruments by Lauren Farquharson and Christina Lynn, two postgraduate researchers in music.)
When the Irish composer Freddie May died in 1985, he left a sum of 200 Irish pounds in his will for a specific project.
May, who was described as a “genius” by late artist Louis le Brocquy, had hoped that his String Quartet in C minor might be written in four parts for public performance.
The composition had been recorded by Garech de Brún, the founder of Claddagh Records who commissioned the Aeolian Quartet, a highly reputed string quartet based in London, to play it for release in 1973.
It has been described as one of the finest pieces of chamber music written in Ireland.
However, May, who became increasingly deaf throughout his life, died before the score could be prepared for public performance.
After de Brún’s death in 2018, James Morrissey, chairman of Claddagh Records, came across the sum of money left by May in the company’s archive.
The company, which last year signed a licensing agreement with Universal to relaunch Claddagh Records, approved €1,500 for May’s score to be typeset for four separate instruments.
This has now been undertaken by Lauren Farquharson and Christina Lynn, two postgraduate researchers in music at Dundalk Institute of Technology.
Born in Dublin 1911, May attended the Royal Irish Academy of Music and studied at Trinity College, Dublin.
He attended London’s Royal College of Music where he was a pupil of Ralph Vaughan Williams.
In 1933, a performance of his Scherzo for Orchestra won him a scholarship to Vienna.
The writer James Plunkett, best known for writing Strumpet City, described how as a young man of 22, May “stepped unwittingly into nightmare”.
“Total economic collapse, massive unemployment and bitter political discord had already prepared the way for Hitler’s rise to power. Violence was turning Vienna into a city of fear,” Plunkett wrote for the Claddagh Record sleeve notes of May’s string quartet.
May also suffered from otosclerosis since the age of 17, an ear disease which meant he had to cope with continuous noise and the prospect of deafness. He had described it as living like a “dog with a tin can tied to his tail”.
In spite of this, he completed the String Quartet in C minor in 1936 on his return from Vienna. It was premiered in London by the New London String Quartet in 1948, and in Dublin the following year.
“The passionate sincerity of expression which permeates everything he wrote is nowhere more movingly apparent than in the String Quartet, which I believe to be his finest work,” Brian Boydell, professor of music at Trinity College, wrote in 1974.
Adèle Commins, head of department of creative arts, media and music at Dundalk Institute of Technology, said the work is “very important in the canon of Irish music” as it represented a “significant development of Irish modernism”.
Farquharson, whose research in musicology focuses on repertoire for the piano accordion, said it was “a wonderful experience delving into the intricate notation”.
Lynn, whose research focuses on country music in Ireland and previously studied Irish born composer Charles Villiers Stanford, said she was “grateful for the opportunity to bring this fascinating music score to life”.
“Projects such as this provide important opportunities for students and researchers to link with industry and demonstrates the value of their research,” Commins said.
Buy Freddie May's 'String Quartet in C Minor here