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Helen Edward Bunting - The Ancient Music of Ireland (50) RE: Edward Bunting - The Ancient Music of Ireland 13 Oct 19

Hmm! My first response is that we may never really know for sure what "corrections" Bunting made to the tunes.

At this stage, I'm just looking at the O'Carolan tunes in Bunting's first collection.

This lovely and unusual O'Carolan tune is shown in the key of A flat Major, with four flats.

Edward Bunting The Princess Royal (page 35 in Bunting's collection).

It is possible to have a harp tuned to that key but I suspect it would be unusual, especially if the harper had to retune all those strings between playing one tune and the next. However, given that technology and communication technology at that time was not what it is now, it is possible that a harp built by one person compared with another may have been tuned to a different range.

But then, on page 54 (Bunting's page numbering) Carolan's Receipt is in the key of E Major with four sharps. Other O'Carolan tunes in the first collection are all over the shop in terms of key signatures, including C Major, G Major, D Major, A Major, F Major, B flat Major or their associated minor keys.

I suspect (but have no proof) that Bunting might have mixed the key signatures up to make it more interesting for players of the pianoforte, but I'd be very surprised if each of the original harp players played in all of those different keys. It would take a bit more research and most of the information is possibly lost in the mists of time.

One avenue of research would be to see if the harp players listed as the performers for each tune could be matched to specific key signatures, indicating that possibly certain harpers had their harps tuned to a specific one or two key signatures requiring minimal retuning of one or two strings per octave to shift from one key to the other. For example, the key of A Major has four flats, B, E, A, D but he key of E Major has four sharps, F, C, G, D however E flat = F#, A flat = G# and D flat = C# so three of the notes are the same in both keys. It would require changing the B flat to natural and the F to sharp. So only two string retunings per octave. Possible.

My knowledge of O'Carolan's tunes makes me think that many of them are what I call deceptively simple. On the surface they look simple but there are some beautiful little twists and turns in some of the tunes. If Bunting was doing something like "sanitising" the tunes then those little "frilly" bits (my terminology) would be less evident. The tunes would be more likely to be less memorable, IMHO.

So, my definitive answer is "I don't know". LOL

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