A periodical series of reflections on recorded and unrecorded works by Charles Villiers Stanford
by Christopher Howell
19. Molly Brannigan
If you hear the Irish song or dance Molly Brannigan from a modern Irish folk group, Stanford does not come into it. Collectors of vocal recordings from the earlier 20th century will know that Stanford is variously named as the composer, the arranger or not at all. With just two exceptions, all recordings of Molly Brannigan that I have heard, dated 1908 to 1930, use Stanford’s version, straight or adapted but clearly recognizable, whether his name is on the label or not. Even two from the 1940s, though much altered, have features that imply they are adulterated Stanford rather than independently derived. Clearly, there is some explaining to do.
Stanford’s arrangement of Molly Brannigan for voice and piano was published in 1903. It has some unusual features within his output. It is not part of a larger collection, the words are not by Alfred Perceval Graves or Thomas Moore and the tune is not from one of his usual sources, Petrie, Bunting or Joyce, but from “Miss Honoria Galwey’s Collection of Old Irish Melodies”. Truer to form, the title page tells us it was “sung by Mr. Plunket Greene”.