Merrow Sang

Composer: Deirdre Gribbin (b. 1967)
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Composer: Deirdre Gribbin (b. 1967)

Performance date: 27/06/2011

Venue: Bantry Library

Composition Year: 2007

Duration: 00:11:42

Recording Engineer: Anton Timoney, RTÉ lyric fm

Instrumentation: 2vn, va, vc

Instrumentation Category:String Quartet

Artists: RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet (Gregory Ellis, Keith Pascoe [violins], Simon Aspell [viola], Christopher Marwood [cello]) - [quartet]

Merrow (from Gaelic murúch) is the Irish Gaelic equivalent of the mermaid of other cultures. These beings are said to appear as human from the waist up but have the body of a fish from the waist down.
I was struck by the vivid description in this account from Fairy Tales of the Irish Peasantry describing the burial of one of The Cantillon family of Balyheigh whose family burial ground had been sunken in the sea off the coast of Cork. As was tradition after a death, the coffin was laid next to the water. A mourner hiding behind the rocks recounted. It was long past midnight, and the moon was sinking into the sea, when I heard the sound of many voices, which gradually became stronger, above the heavy and monotonous roll of the waves. I could distinguish a Keen, the notes of which rose and fell with the heaving of the water, whose deep murmur mingled with and supported the strain. The Keen grew louder and louder, and seemed to approach the beach, and then fell into a wail. As it ended I beheld a number of strange and, in the dim light, mysterious-looking figures emerge from the sea, and surround the coffin, which they prepared to launch into the water.
Also it has been recounted that merrow-maidens were reputed to lure young men to follow them beneath the waves. Sometimes they were said to leave their outer skins behind, to assume others more magical and beautiful. Merrow music is often heard coming from beneath the waves.
There is something very magical about these images and in this quartet Merrow Sang, I wanted to create webs of sound, almost like shades of the sea or water from which music emerges which is very strong, is half-heard and then vanishes transforming in a new skin. The real-time of the music is stretched and distorted as if caught in the clutch of a wave before floating to the watery surface.