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Barry Douglas: Tiny Desk Concert

Barry Douglas knows a few things about handing down traditions. In this Tiny Desk performance, he passes along the musical heritage of his Irish homeland in the form of old Celtic songs he's arranged for solo piano.

Douglas has also been on the receiving end of tradition. If you set up a kind of Ancestry.com for pianists, Douglas could claim a pretty impressive pedigree. One of his teachers, Felicitas LeWinter, studied with a pupil of Franz Liszt. Another of his tutors, Maria Curcio, was taught by Artur Schnabel, whose teacher's teacher was a man named Beethoven. All that training helped Douglas take home the gold medal at the 1986 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow.

Douglas starts with the oldest of the songs, "The Coolin," which in its original language (An Chúileann) translates to "The Fair-Haired Girl." The lyric can be traced back to about 1641, while the melody itself, some argue, is even older. He dresses the tune in Baroque trills and a theme and variations format displaying a variety of moods.

Two quick tunes follow. The hard-driving "Planxty Dillon" is a dance that dates from the early 18th century. And "The Raggle Taggle Gypsy," of similar vintage, originates in Scotland but quickly became popular in England and North America under alternate titles such as "Black Jack Davy."

Douglas finishes with "My Lagan Love," a song of dubious origins yet covered by everyone from John McCormack and Sinéad O'Connor to Pete Seeger and Dusty Springfield. Inspired by the river Lagan in Ireland's northern Donegal (hear the rippling in Douglas' left hand), the song defines the melancholy Irish air, making a direct hit on the heart.

Celtic Reflections
is available now. (iTunes) (Amazon)

Set List

  • "The Coolin"
  • "Planxty Dillon"
  • "The Raggle Taggle Gypsy"
  • "My Lagan Love"
  • Credits

    Producers: Tom Huizenga, Niki Walker; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Niki Walker, Kara Frame; Production Assistant: Jackson Sinnenberg; Photo: Emily Bogle/NPR.

    For more Tiny Desk concerts, subscribe to our podcast.

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.