Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the dishevelled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.
The Land of Heart’s Desire, William Yeats
Despite the richness and sophistication at the heart of traditional Irish musical forms, choirs only perform a repertoire of a more recent history dating largely from the end of the 20th century. One of the prime objectives of Anúna – a vocal ensemble based in Dublin and founded in 1987 by composer and tenor Michael McGlynn – lies rightly in the exploration and redefinition of the Irish choir from ancient times to today.
The word Anúna comes from the Gaelic term An Uaithne which means three ancient types of Irish music: Suantrai (lullabies), Geantrai (songs of celebration) and Goltrai (lamentations). The eclectic repertoire of this choral group, with its vocal spectrum of great amplitude, plays around with fixed identity, extolling spatial-temporal movement in harmonies and melodies of bygone eras. The characteristic sound of the group – beyond the founders John McGlynn, Miriam Blennerhassett, Monica Donlon and Garrath Patterson – belongs to the artistic vision of the founder, Michael McGlynn. In fact, it is he who composes or arranges all the songs from the mystical music that has had a strong impact and resonates with his own sensitivity. Be it classical, Celtic, modal or contemporary music, the definition of Anúna is richer than simply these musical categories. The medieval history of Ireland as well as its literature, 12th century manuscripts and poetry are all honoured in composition. Yeats, Francis Ledwidge, Wallace Stevens … all are national symbols that are called upon. But the sources of Michael McGlynn’s inspiration come from further afield. If distinctive melodies and melismas ornamented with sean nós, the traditional Irish song, or the psalms of the Western Isles have all strongly influenced him, the exploration of his musical affinities have gone as far as the Latins, passing via Purcell, Hildegard von Bingen and even the visionary poet, Rimbaud. Following the traces of these poets in well-crafted language, Michael McGlynn begins with the idea that these old messages should be told through the beauty of the choir.
On a fine thread of emotion, the crystalline sounds of voices in unison transport us to heaven and immerse our souls in contemplation, in the solitude of the skies of these same shining stars. And with great delicacy, a state of grace makes its way across the moors of Ireland like the halo of light that shines in the dew scattered on leaves in the clearing.
Lost love, the passage of the seasons, sadness of times past, the calming sweetness of nature … all are chiaroscuro themes of Anúna’s choral music that, like an ethereal embrace, radiates with lightning, under the seal of evanescence, so that the secret of ancient times can be poured into music. Thus, in the glow of twilight, in unfathomable dusk, the enchanting contrast is brought to light thanks to phantoms shaped by prophetic grace. Esoteric mythology haunts the messages divulged a cappella to better orient us towards healing. The ancient land of Ireland delivers echoes and resonances of the past. The aura of its landscape instils in those inspired by it a subliminal understanding of the essence of life and the relationship to one’s own land … the fragility and the power of human existence. This is how Anúna, through ritualistic and theatrical performance, pays homage to sacred ancestral cults, bringing us closer to emotional reality.