Donnacha Dennehy

Notes from the Composer

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Donnacha Dennehy (Sophie Dennechy)


Performed by the RTE National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland.

The creative spark for Crane was an ambitious collaborative concept: an urban industrial ballet, to involve a live orchestral performance and the choreographed movement of cranes located at various building sites across the Dublin skyline during the apex of Dublin’s construction boom. Although the costs and practicalities of the choreography eventually proved insurmountable, it happily set the conditions for the birth of this stand-alone piece.

A lot has changed in the meantime. Liberated from the potential restrictions of such an involved collaboration, the music itself is significantly more ambitious and far-reaching than anything I first imagined. All the same, many of the monolithic gestures it contains are bound up with my poetic thinking about cranes (I was obsessed for about a year). I have acknowledged that debt in the title of what is now essentially an abstract piece of music.

One connection between the early vision and the final piece is, for me, particularly poignant. During research for the original concept, I visited a school for crane operators on the outskirts of Dublin, accompanied by the wonderful Anglo-Indian choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh, who was to choreograph the crane movements. There we met a crane operator who was a fascinating character. Something he said never left me. I asked him what he enjoyed about his job and he said it was that when he ascended the massive collection of ladders to reach his cabin high up in the sky, he left all the worries and troubles of his life down on the ground and could “watch the whole world go by.” The gentle crux of this piece, at the end of the second section (there are three, connecting continuously), is a kind of a musical translation of such an oasis in the sky, in the context of a massively energetic, industrial-strength, intense piece for orchestra.

Grá Agus Bás 

Performed by the Crash Ensemble with Iarla O'Lionaird, conducted by Alan Pierson

Written especially for Iarla O’Lionáird and the Crash Ensemble and commissioned by Trinity College, Grá agus Bás is inspired by the moments of ecstasy (both luscious and dark) within a number of sean nós songs but especially Aisling Gheal, and uses these as a collective point of departure for a journey exploring the themes of love and death in a non-narrative context. Sean nós is a type of unaccompanied Irish vocal music. The term is translated as “old style” or “old tradition,” and the music is transmitted orally from generation to generation. In Grá agus Bás, the treatment of pitches (and harmony) oscillates between an equal tempered and a quasi-just-tuned spectral approach. It is usually equal tempered when it is harmonically mobile, and just-tuned when it is harmonically static.

The text circles around the following lines from the third verse of Aisling Gheal, using an ghníomh (the deed) as its point of departure:

A phlúr na bhfear, mo shlad na déin-se…;

Dá tiocfadh sa ghreann dúinn clan do dhéanamh,

‘S go mbeifeá séantach insan ghníomh,

Gur ghearr on mbás mé…,

‘S im ghóist im aonar bheinn romhat sa tslí.

O Flower of men, do not cause my destruction,

If it happened in our pleasure that we made a child,

And if you were to deny the deed,

I would be near death…,

And as a ghost on my own I would be before you on the road.

While the final section concentrates mainly on the final two lines from above, the middle section also incorporates two lines from Táim Sínte Ar Do Thuam (I am stretched on your grave):

Tá cló ar mo chroí-se

Tá líonta le grá dhuit

There is a nail on my heart

I am filled with love for you.


More in:

Comments [9]


Wonderful - it's music that makes me listen, never background! Played by Crash - even better. now when will Grá Agus Bás be out so I can listen and listen? To the top with him!!

Sep. 08 2010 11:16 PM
sunnysider from nyc

I firmly believe that Donnacha Dennehy is one of the greatest composers of his generation and his music will certainly stand the test of time. His music is arresting, exciting and never ceases to engage. He certainly deserves to be in the final four!

Jun. 25 2010 04:46 PM
Olga Barry from Dublin

I have long loved the music of Donnacha Dennehy, and have come to anticipate his work like a teenager about to get on a roller coaster. And like that teenager, as soon as I get off the coaster, I desperately want to get back on it again.
His music is gripping, often thrilling yet achingly beautiful. It can keep you on the edge of your seat, and then break your heart.
Dennehy's music engages the listener in the most elemental and vital ways and it straddles the intellectual and emotional dichotomy with consuming ease, which can unnerve you, and then leave you deeply satisfied. He is without doubt one of the most exciting and inspiring voices in music today.

Jun. 25 2010 01:41 PM
yotam h. from Brooklyn

brilliant stuff, absolutely gut-wrenching.

Jun. 25 2010 09:59 AM
Lainie from NYC

I absolutely love this man's music. It is visceral and powerful and beautiful and smart. I'd love to hear what he'd write for Orpheus.

Jun. 24 2010 03:37 PM
Lainie from NYC

I absolutely love this man's music. It is visceral and powerful and beautiful and smart. I'd love to hear what he'd write for Orpheus.

Jun. 24 2010 03:37 PM
Sarah Bruce from London

What an original and inspiring composer Donnacha Dennehy is - let's hear more from him!

Jun. 24 2010 04:17 AM
Glenn Branca

Mr. Dennehy is a rare, very rare genius. I was elated when I only recently heard his music. He is utterly original while at the same time having a deep understanding of the work of his predecessors. I believe he is one of the finest composers of our time and have no doubt will be one of the most important musical thinkers of the 21st century.

Jun. 24 2010 12:25 AM
Libby Fabricatore from Astoria, NY

I've known Donnacha for several years, and have always found his work to be masterful and inspiring. I would love to hear his work in Carnegie Hall!

Jun. 23 2010 11:26 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

The WQXR e-newsletter. Show highlights, links to music news, on-demand concerts, events from The Greene Space and more.

Follow WQXR