Left Behind: Songs of the 1916 Widows

Left Behind: Songs of the 1916 Widows

Simon O'Connor & Michelle O'Rourke

ER23

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Composer Simon O’Connor and vocalist Michelle O’Rourke present a collection of haunting songs inspired by the stories of the widows of rebel leaders involved in the 1916 Easter Rising.

“There was no shortage of music contributions for the 1916 centenary, but I doubt if there was anything more original or insightful than this thought-provoking collection that focused not on the rebel leaders, but on their wives and sweethearts.” – The Sunday Business Post

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Written by composer and curator Simon O’Connor, and commissioned and presented by vocalist Michelle O’Rourke, Left Behind is a new collection of songs to mark the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising. Drawing on the experiences of the wives of prominent rebel leaders, O’Rourke and O’Connor have created a unique suite of compositions that offer an emotional, human perspective on a narrative that is too often told in baldly male heroic terms.

Beginning life as simple vocal/piano pieces, these songs have been transformed with the addition of O’Connor’s former bandmates from celebrated Dublin rock band The Jimmy Cake, and The Robinson Panoramic Quartet, a dynamic Dublin-based string ensemble.  These ensembles bring a dramatic energy to the retelling of the stories of Maud Gonne, Grace and Muriel Gifford, Agnes Mallin and others.

“So much of our engagement with history is purely political, and so rarely we allow ourselves to read between the lines to find human realities,” says O’Connor. “Sinéad McCoole’s book, Easter Widows, the key historical reference for this work, allowed us to empathise with and understand the human cost, the real life narratives of the revolutionary period.”

“More so than any art form, music places us squarely in this emotional space,” adds vocalist Michelle O’Rourke. “With these songs, we hope to give life to some of these feelings, these emotions and the sense of loss felt by many women and children who were left behind by men who were dominated by what they felt was a higher calling.”

Praise for the premiere performance of Left Behind:

“The moody, slender, ethereal settings of Left Behind … held together by O’Rourke and the extraordinary beauty of her voice.” – Michael Dervan, The Irish Times

“The night felt like an exercise in story-telling of lives often forgot… The songs were stripped of superfluous flare in favour of a stunning stillness which revived the beauty of these tragic, untold tales.” – thinair.net

Praise for Left Behind on record:

“a searingly sad tribute to the 1916 widows […] beautifully crafted and very affecting” – The Sunday Business Post

“Sweeping, haunting and beautiful.” – The Sunday Times

“There was no shortage of music contributions for the 1916 centenary, but I doubt if there was anything more original or insightful than this thought-provoking collection that focused not on the rebel leaders, but on their wives and sweethearts.” – The Sunday Business Post

“Composed to commemorate the Easter Rising, Left Behind eschews grand elegy in favour of the intimate and the personal. The focus is not on traditional heroics but on the private lives affected by history’s grand sweep, the wives of the some of the soldiers killed in the Rising and its aftermath, each of the six songs being sung (by O’Rourke, in rich voice) from the perspective of one of the widows.” – Liam Cagney, The Journal of Music
 
 “‘From the Water: Song of Muriel’ presents Muriel Gifford, wife of Thomas McDonagh, at the moment of her death from a heart attack whilst swimming in Skerries; its instrumentation – delicately chiming piano, double bass and ride cymbal – and chromatic shifts bringing to mind Radiohead.” – Liam Cagney, The Journal of Music
 
“‘Carousel: Song of Áine’ in its drifting triple metre spin suggests the carousel of the title, light piano chords backed by subtle mallet-struck tom and ride cymbal, over which, in a Björk-tinged melody, O’Rourke sings: ‘Mo mhúinteoir chráite / In the stillness of it all, / Time spins around us, / We rise tall, tall.’” – Liam Cagney, The Journal of Music

Simon O’Connor’s musical life began late as a teenager in punk bands, developing to solo electronic music, theatre composition and avant-rock groups, most notably as founding member of seminal Dublin indie band The Jimmy Cake. A student of Donnacha Dennehy and Kevin Volans, his music increasingly focuses on melody, harmony and an approach that may be described as a new tonalism. He is published on the Ergodos record label and his most recent release, the piano suite “What is Living and What is Dead”, has been described as “a heartfelt, wordless musical plea for beauty in a world gone austere”. simonoconnor.ie/left-behind

Michelle O’Rourke is an Irish singer based in Dublin. Her natural sound, unaffected expressivity and technical ability make for an interpreter of rare dynamism. Michelle combines her classical training with an adventurous eclecticism and a passion for collaboration. In recent years Michelle has been involved in the commission, premiere and touring of works by many contemporary Irish composers, premieres of works by Kjartan Sveinsson of Sigur Rós, and international tours with Danish indie band Efterklang. Most recently, Michelle performed in Berlin and London with André de Ridder’s chamber orchestra Stargaze and US alt-pop singer-songwriter Julia Holter. michelleorourke.ie

 

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