Seán Ó Riada


Seán Ó Riada

Infobox Musical artist
Name = Seán Ó Riada


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Background = non_performing_personnel
Birth_name = John Reidy
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Born = birth date|1931|8|1|mf=y
Origin = County Limerick, Ireland
Died = death date and age|1971|10|3|1931|8|1|mf=y
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Occupation = Composer
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Seán Ó Riada (August 1, 1931 - October 3, 1971), born "John Reidy", was a composer and bandleader, and perhaps the single most influential figure in the renaissance of traditional Irish music from the 1960s, through his participation in Ceoltóirí Chualann, his compositions, his writings and his broadcasts on the topic.

Early life

Born John Reidy in Adare, County Limerick, he was educated at St Finbar's College, Farranferris. He played the violin, piano and organ and studied classics at University College Cork, graduating in 1952. While there Ó Riada was the auditor of the UCC Philosophical Society. In the same year he became assistant director for Radio Éireann. He married Ruth Coughlan in 1953. During the evening he played piano with dance bands. In 1955 Ó Riada abandoned his prestigious job, his wife and his newborn son Peadar, and moved to Italy and France, adopting a wild bohemian lifestyle. While studying composition under Aloys Fleischman he wrote avant-garde music. He drank heavily, and acquired a passion for expensive fast cars. Over the next ten years Ó Riada wrote several orchestral pieces called "Nomos". The third was left incomplete and some of the others took years to finish. None of them were publicly performed more than once. Ruth went in pursuit of her husband and found him living in poverty in Paris. She persuaded relatives to give them money and brought him back to Ireland, where he became musical director of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin for five years. At about this time he changed his name from John Reidy to Seán Ó Riada, after giving the subject much thought. A much more accurate (indeed the above account includes many fallacies) and detailed account of the early years is given in Dr. Tomás Ó Canainn's biography of Ó Riada.

Mise Éire

As a classical composer Ó Riada's real strength was for music of the theatre and film. In 1959 he scored a documentary film by George Morrison called "Mise Éire" ("I am Ireland"). It is about the founding of the Republic of Ireland. It has repeatedly been used in other documentaries and is available on CD, together with other film music - "Saoirse?" (1960) and "An Tine Bheo" ("The Living Fire"). The recording is conducted by Ó Riada himself. These works combine traditional Irish tunes and "sean-nós" (old style) songs with an orchestral arrangement. Ralph Vaughan Williams had already done this sort of thing with English folk music, but in 1950s Ireland traditional music was still held in low regard by some elements of Irish society. His first attempt to combine Irish song with the classical tradition was in 1958 when an Irish radio station in Cork commissioned a short work. "Mise Éire" brought him national acclaim and allowed him to start a series of programmes on Irish radio called "Our Musical Heritage". Ó Riada told people that one should listen to sean-nós either as a child would listen or as if they were songs from India.

Ceoltóirí Chualann

Between 1961 and 1969 Ó Riada was leader of a group called Ceoltóirí Chualann. Although they played in concert halls dressed in a black suits with white shirts and black bow ties, they played traditional songs and tunes. An ordinary céilidh band or show-band would have musicians who competed with each other to grab the attention of the audience. Ceoltóirí Chualann played sparse lucid arrangements. Ó Riada sat in the middle at front playing bodhrán, a hand-held frame-drum. This was an instrument that had almost died out, being played only by small boys in street parades. Ceilidh bands generally had jazz-band drum-kits. Ó Riada also wanted to use the clarsach or wire-strung harp in the band, but as these were as yet unavailable, he played the harpsichord instead - the nearest sound to a clarsach. The harpsichord he used on a regular basis was made by Cathal Gannon. Unknown to Ó Riada, Irish folk music was being played ensemble-style in London pubs, but for most people of Ireland this was the first time they heard these tunes played by a band. The membership of Ceoltóirí Chualann overlapped with membership of The Chieftains, so it is surprising that the six albums they recorded are not better known. They recorded the soundtrack of the film "Playboy of the Western World" (original play by John Millington Synge) in 1963. Their last public performance was in 1969, and issued as the album "Ó Riada Sa Gaiety".

Final years

In 1964 Ó Riada moved to _ga. Cúil Aodha ( _en. Coolea) in West Cork, an Irish-speaking area. Ó Riada demanded that his wife learn to speak the language within three months. He established Cor Chúil Aodha, a male voice choir. He turned toward church choral music, including "Aifrean 2" (premiered posthumously in 1979). Other works include "Five Greek Epigrams" and "Holdlerin Songs". In 1996 Kate Bush recorded the Peadar Ó Doirnín song "Mná na h-Éireann", made famous by Sean Ó Riada and Ceoltóirí Chualann, for the compilation album "Common Ground". "Mná na h-Éireann", performed by the Chieftains, is used as a romantic overture throughout the Stanley Kubrick movie "Barry Lyndon". He did a setting of the poetry of Thomas Kinsella, who returned the favour by praising Ó Riada in verse. He became involved in Irish politics and was a friend of several influential leaders. Ó Riada and Ruth both drank regularly at a local pub which still advertises itself as his being his local. He suffered cirrhosis of the liver. He was flown to King's College Hospital, London for treatment and died there. He is buried in St Gobnait's church, Ballyvourney, County Cork. Willie Clancy played at his funeral.

A Gaelscoil in Cill Coca (Kilcock) - Scoil Uí Riada is also named after him and another, in Bishopstown, Cork City as well.

References

* Kinsella, Thomas & Ó Cannain, Tomas. "Our Musical Heritage", Dolmen Press, 1982 ISBN 0-85105-389-0
*Ó Canainn, Tomás. "Seán Ó Riada: His Life and Work", Collins Press, 2003.

Further reading

Gannon, Charles: Cathal Gannon - The Life and Times of a Dublin Craftsman (Lilliput Press) [http://homepage.eircom.net/~cathalgannon]


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