20th session and final concert: Friday 24th June

Our residency concluded with this concert which was a great experience for us and an evidently fulfilling evening for the sizeable audience in the LexIcon studio. It really is a nice acoustic for chamber music; I was grateful for its resonance in the Dowland song In Darkness which is very soft and dark and intimate. Eamon used a little local amplification for his plucked instruments – which are intrinsicly quieter than the bowed ones – and Caroline used her small PA to amplify her voice too in the 3 songs she sang (items 6, 11 and 12). We had experimented with not using it but her style really requires it to put across the small inflections (my singing is less refined!) The full programme was

1. John Dowland (1563-1626) Lachrimae
2. ”  Dowland’s Midnight
3.  ” In Darkness Let Me Dwell
4. Johann Schop (c.1590-1667) Lachrimae Pavan
5. Erik Satie (1866-1925) Gymnopédies
6. Traditional 18th cent. Normandy Quand Je Menais mes Chevaux Boire
7. Nicola Matteis (fl.c.1670-after 1714) Diverse Bizzarie sopra la Vecchia Sarabanda o pur Ciaccona
8. Malachy Robinson (1970-) Barograf
9. Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) Petit Oiseau
10. Robert deVisée (c.1650-1733) Suite in d minor
11. Traditional 16th cent. Brittany Complainte de la Blanche Biche
12. encore: Serge Gainsbourg (1928-1991) Les Petits Papiers

Eamon began the concert alone on the lute, and it was a good way to get the audience to tune in to its delicate charm. We ran the 3 Dowlands and the Schop (built on the Dowland Lachrymae) together which was a really intense start to the evening, lasting almost 20 minutes.


Satie was mesmeric, Quand Je Menais was very dramatic and Anita was flying in the Matteis. After the interval Barograf was really quite compelling and prompted several rewarding audience comments afterwards. Berlioz’ wee song was charming and naiive, deVisée was elegant in a Versailles kind of way, and the 16th-century Blanche Biche was earthy. A bit of French swing with Caroline was the only possible thing to conclude the kaleidoscopic programme. Eidola trio lexicon programme p2 june 24.jpg

Eidola trio lexicon programme june 24

It was an enormous privelege to have been supported in this residency, afforded the time and space to follow our noses in any direction that took our fancy. Eamon and I have been able to get to grips with some instruments that were awaiting our attention. We engaged with a load of repertoire that we would never have otherwise tackled. And lastly, we were required to present new work which was a sort of icing on the cake: permission to use our historical instruments to explore beyond their expected repertoire, beyond further-fetched repertoire and into our own imagination.

Enormous thanks to DunLaoghaire-Rathdown county council

  • Malachy 26/6/16

18th & 19th sessions: Wednesday 22nd June

Today we worked a double-shift: the first session was spent in the boardroom and the second in the studio. It was great to have time to rehearse and then run the items. Barograf, DeVisée, Satie, Schop, Dowland and Berlioz all got a good going over, and we took out an old favourite of Anita’s by Nicola Matteis (fl.c.1670-after 1714) succinctly entitled Diverse Bizarre sopra la Vecchia Sarabanda o pur Ciaccona. The piece is a set of variations over a repeated harmonic sequence – the violinist (Anita) carries us through many emotions while the continuo (Eamon and I) adjust the nature of the ground bass to suit the shifting moods.


Matteis was the first of a huge wave of Italian violin virtuosi to become rich and famous in London; the diarist John Evelyn wrote on 19th November 1674 “I heard that stupendious Violin Signor Nichola (with other rare Musitians) whom certainly never mortal man Exceeded on that instrument, he had a stroak so sweete, & made it speake like the Voice of a man; & when he pleased, like a Consort of severall Instruments: he did wonders upon a Note: was an excellent Composer also. Nothing approch’d the violin in Nicholas’ hand: he seem’d to be spiritato’d & plaied such ravishing things on a ground as astonishd us all.”

Caroline’s chansons were rehearsed briefly with her in the previous session (no.17) and we decided not to invest in them today; she will be along on Friday morning to put the finishing touches to Quand je Menais mes Chevaux Boire (Normandy, 18th cent) and the Complainte de la Blanche Biche (Brittany, 16th cent). There will also be a surprise from 20th-century France…

  • Malachy 22/6/16

17th session: Thursday 16th June

Much of this session was spent assembling our new piece Barograf to be presented at the final concert of our residency on Friday 24th. I took a set of charts of barometric readings from the harbour and converted them into musical material – namely a set of superimposable rhythms and a compatible melody and harmony. The sketches needed a fair bit of workshopping but with the generous contributions of my colleagues it began to take shape. Our 17th-century selves were delighted to be experimenting with techniques like palm-brushing the guitar, and col legno (using the stick of the bow) both tratto (bowing with the wood) and battuto (hitting the strings with it).

The programme for this concert has a predominantly French theme and had been entitled “Vive la Difference”. The title refers to our celebration both of the variety of musics encountered on our 500-year survey and also of the revelations achieved by using our “old” instruments in the performance of more recent repertoire.
The French content will span 5 centuries and include pieces by Robert deVisée, Hector Berlioz, Erik Satie and 2 Renaissance Chansons sung by special guest Caroline Moreau. There will also be a set celebrating lutenist John Dowland (believed to have been from Dalkey) featuring Eamon on the lute of course.

  • Malachy 17/6/16

16th session and 2nd concert: Wednesday 1st June

The first of our pair of June concerts – marking the end of our residency – was a great success. We had a good turnout and a very enthusiastic response, with many attendees waiting to thank us personally at the end of the evening.Eidola trio lexicon programme june 1

the repertoire was generally local with some early Italians thrown in to illustrate the origins of our instruments and outlook:

1. Giovanni Pandolfi Mealli  (c.1630–c.1670) Sonata:  ‘La Cesta’ Adagio – Allegro – Adagio – Adagio

2. Toirdhealbhach Ó Cearbhalláin (1670–1738) Carolan’s Farewell to Music
Matthew Dubourg (1703–1767)
Toirdhealbhach Ó Cearbhalláin Sí bheag, Sí mhór

3. Thomas Roseingrave (1690–1766)  Sonata 12 Largo – Allegro – Largo – Minuet – Siciliana

4. Benedict Schlepper-Connolly Star

5. Biagio Marini (1594–1663) Romanesca


6. Malachy Robinson Light and Depth

7. Traditional Dublin Bay from “50 Beauties of Erin” c.1920 

8. Francesco Corbetta (1615–1681) Autre Chaconne

9. Francesco Geminiani (1687–1762) Lady Ann Bothwel’s Lament, Auld Bob Morrice

10. Luigi Boccherini (1743–1805) Los Manolos – ‘Passacaille’ from Musica Notturna della Strade di Madrid

11. After David Bowie (1947–2016) Lament on Mars

Eidola trio lexicon programme june 1 p2

It was a full 2 hours with the chat and contextualising and inevitable repeated tuning of the gut strings. The interval featured a complementary glass of Pinot Grigio which may have predisposed them well to Light and Depth which followed; in any case the reaction to that new piece was particularly positive. O’Carolans’s tunes were another notable hit, and so was the Sonata by local boy Roseingrave – he deserves to be played more.

Ben Schlepper-Connolly attended and spoke charmingly about his piece Star, which particularly highlighted the acoustic improvement achieved by drawing back the black drapes that hang around the Studio. They were in position for most of our sessions there and we were fortunately able to have them removed for the performance. It’s really a very nice chamber-music room once the drapes are retracted, better than perhaps the LexIcon themselves are aware.

  • Malachy 2/6/16

15th session: Tuesday 24th May

Our residency comes to a close next month, with concerts on the 1st and 24th of June. The first of these is almost upon us and we have chosen our programme, and made a poster that looks like this:1st June posterThe repertoire emphasises local and Irish connections: Roseingrave (lived in DunLaoghaire), O’Carolan (born in Nobber, Meath), Dubourg (employed at Dublin Castle), Geminiani (died in Dublin). There’s also the Dublin Bay ballad, a piece by current Dubliner Benedict Schlepper-Connolly, a lament for Bowie fashioned by us on his song, and our piece derived from the Harbour Depth readings and lighthouse specifications. A few Italian pieces will be thrown in for good measure but Local Heroes are to the fore.

We spent the first half of the session working on the Roseingrave sonata – which is really very good. It’s challenging to arrange without a keyboard instrument, but rewarding to find the solutions. Then we played La Cesta and the Marini Romanesca, and finally refined the Light and Depth a bit further. This piece is written loosely, to allow our 17th-century-selves to improvise and respond to the things that transpire as it unfolds; we realised that ten minutes is about the minimum for it to run successfully. I think an improvising jazzer would probably regard 10 mins as the minimum length of a tune too…

  • Malachy 25/5/16

14th session: Friday 20th May

Today we returned to my DunLaoghaire Harbour-inspired composition Light and Depth which we haven’t looked at for a while. It was lovely to revisit it, it sounds better than I remember! (Partly because we improved it today…)Dun-Laoghaire-aerial-photo               [where’s the Lexicon?! an old photo]

We spent a good while too on Roseingrave’s Sonata 12, which also sounds better having left it alone for a bit (funny how that happens) and put some shape on the continuo and finessed the tempi etc. We have added a Siciliana movement to the end, which is from the 11th sonata; many of them end with a Siciliana and we missed it here, so pinched this one that is in the right key.

The other thing we worked on was a Minuet by Matthew Dubourg 1703-1767, a fiddler who spent most of his life in Ireland and was famously the leader of the orchestra for Handel’s Messiah premiere here. (At the time he was “Chief Composer and Master of the Music attending His Majesty’s State in Ireland” at Dublin Castle.) It’s a curious little piece with a melody that spans 2 octaves – great for a viol with its 6 strings! Certainly not a tune for dancing to, we are giving it a lyrical rather than a rhythmic thrust. In this way it fits well between two O’Carolan pieces, his Farewell which is even more rhapsodic and his Si Beag Si Mor which – in our version – takes up where the Dubourg leaves off emotionally and brings us to a rousing conclusion. A nice “Irish” set.

  • Malachy 20/5/16

13th session: Saturday 7th May

This session we assembled a programme for a “bring a baby” concert in the NCH John Field Room on Tuesday for parents and very young kids. The toddlers and babies are too young to really involve them directly but a varied programme of light pieces ought to appeal to the kids in different ways and we tried to imagine what would be appreciated by their parents… a bit of tranquility being one of the main things!

As we came to the end of the rehearsal we noticed two kids aged maybe 3 and 5 waving to us from beyond the glass wall of meeting room 1. I invited them to pop in for a listen if they fancied it and they did – with their father and (I gather) grandfather. We played them the Schop (6 minutes long) and they were wonderfully attentive, apparently fascinated by the music and the instruments. All four of them asked interesting questions afterwards, especially “do you all live together?” from the youngest. I was reminded what a good idea it is to have artists working in these glass-walled meeting rooms, conspicuously adding to the life of the building and generating these unpredictable encounters.

The programme performed on Tuesday then was:- Schop Lachrimae – Bowie Lament – 3 O’Carolan tunes – DeVisée suite – Dublin Bay ballad –  Satie Gymnopédie 1 – Corbetta Chaconne – Boccherini PassaCaille

eidola NCH
    [preparing for the event in the John Field Room, NCH]

Our Lament on Mars for Bowie was played after the 17th-century Lachrimae without introduction, and the effect was lovely as the tune eventually emerged from our somewhat 17th-century arrangement and the recognition showed on the parents’ faces. Interesting to note that the toddlers were far more attentive during the hypnotic Gymnopédie than in the tuneful O’Carolan selection; we didn’t predict that. Also interesting were the vocal contributions by the 1-year-olds which often appeared to be responses to the music.

  • Malachy 10/5/16

12 and-a-halfth session: Wednesday 4th May

Eamon and I had an off-site session just to rehearse the John Dowland song In Darkness Let me Dwell. This was written to be played and sung by a lutenist (the composer himself), but is usually now not sung by the player. There is a consort version for viols too, as with his famous Lachrymae. With Eamon’s indulgence I will sing our version accompanied by a viol on the bass line supporting the lute. An advantage of adding a viol is that it is a very nice resonance to sing with, especially if you are wrapped around the thing as you sing. The song is extraordinary in its intensity and chromaticism; it took us a few passes to be sure we were playing the right notes (and to fix the ones that weren’t!) but it’s a real gothic gem. The poem is anonymous, about 1600, and Dowland’s setting from 1610.

In darkness let me dwell; the ground shall sorrow be,
The roof despair, to bar all cheerful light from me;
The walls of marble black, that moist’ned still shall weep;
My music, hellish jarring sounds, to banish friendly sleep.
Thus, wedded to my woes, and bedded in my tomb,
O let me living die, till death doth come, till death doth come.

IMG_6787Dowland is comemmorated locally with this mosaic in Sorrento Park,  being believed to have come from Dalkey.

  • Malachy 7/5/16

12th session: Tuesday 26th April

This session saw the arrival of Eamon’s new baroque guitar, pictured below with its pals. To celebrate we played an old favourite, the Autre Chaconne by superstar guitarist Francesco Corbetta (c.1615-1681), a celebrated musician in courts all over Europe.EidolaAxes

Again featuring the guitar, we returned to the  DeVisee suite, making some further choices about the arrangement; Schop’s Lachrimae also got a play – it seems more rewarding every time.

Petit Oiseau
Pour chanter le retour Du jour,
L’oiseau plus ne sommeille;
Dès l’aurore il s’éveille,
Pour chanter le retour du jour.
Sa voix douce et si pure,
Et l’onde qui murmure
Raniment la nature. Raniment la nature.
Salut! salut! petit oiseau Si beau!
L’écho des bois repète
Ta douce chansonnette;
J’aime ton chant nouveau, Si beau.
Caché sous la feuillage,
Par ton tendre ramage
Tu ravis le bocage. Tu ravis le bocage.
Adieu! adieu! petit oiseau Si beau!
Je viendrai dès l’aurore
Pour t’écouter encore
Adieu! petit oiseau Si beau!
À bénir tu m’engages,
Dieu qui fit le bocage,
Dieu qui fit le bocage, Et ton si doux ramage.
To welcome the day with song,
The bird no longer sleeps;
At dawn he awakes,
To sing the return of day.
His voice – so soft and pure –
and the murmuring waves
reanimate nature. Reanimate nature.
Hello! Hello! little bird So beautiful!
The woods echo
Your sweet song;
I love your new song So beautiful.
Hidden under the foliage,
You delighted the grove with your tender warbling. You delighted the grove.
Farewell! farewell! little bird So beautiful!
I will return at dawn
To listen to you again
Farewell! little bird So beautiful!
God who made the grove, you brought me here to bless me;
God made the grove, And your sweet warbling.

Berlioz’ Petit Oiseau is taking shape nicely, pushing us more in a folksy direction (it is after all subtitled “chanson de pays”) and we followed this direction further with a set of O’Carolan tunes: Planxty BrowneCarolan’s Farewell to Music and Sí Beag Sí Mór. The Farewell is his final composition, and Sí Beag is said to have been his first. The loose shape we put on these tunes leaves plenty of room for spontaneity.

  • Malachy 28/4/16

11th session: Friday 15th April

Schop til you drop: we returned to Schop’s Lachrimae today – it’s such gorgeous writing for the violin that we would have been happy to play it all morning. But having ironed out a few wrinkles we had to move on… to the Berlioz. This involved some singing and playing and a fair bit of trial and error but there’s a very distinct character there and we just need to bring it out. In fact, that is the general ideal for everything we are doing: find the essence, and amplify that. The 17th-century instruments are not a strong flavour in themselves – quite the opposite. Modern instruments have been bred like crops and livestock to yield the maximum and have become extreme forms of their earlier selves. Our early instruments present a more flexible (though less muscular) medium for musical transmission, and from that point of view the present time-travelling project makes perfect sense.

The Gymnopédies were beautiful; we have decided on a slightly different orchestration for each of the three although the piano originals are almost identical in texture. And the answer to the question is yes, the isolated Left Hand note can be enhanced successfully by the addition of the 5th above without damaging the harmony (even though the note in question is often not the root of the subsequent chord).

Fred the Great

[Frederick the Great of Prussia was a pupil of the great JJ Quantz from 1728 for about 45 years]

Lastly was Roseingrave’s 1730 Sonata no.12, which was published explicitly for flute but would certainly have been also played on violin at the time. The reason for specifying flute was that it was the fashionable instrument for European gentlemen and this music was intended for the “wealthy amateur” market. The movements are mostly dancelike, which suits us well, but there is one quite melodramatic allegro which starts with a solo bass voice (the hero?) followed by a solo treble voice (the heroine?) It’s most unusual, operatically comical, great fun.

  • Malachy 15/4/16