The Dance Music of Ireland | The Levey Collections

The Dance Music of Ireland | The Levey Collections

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The Dance Music of Ireland - The Levey Collections is a one-volume edition of R. M. Levey’s two landmark collections of Irish music, entirely reset, together comprising over 200 tunes with simple piano accompaniments, in the history of Irish music. These jigs, reels, hornpipes and other dances, transcribed just as they were performed, provide an invaluable reference for anyone interested in Irish music and a fascinating window into a bygone age.

R. M. Levey, whose true name was Richard Michael O’Shaughnessy, was born in Dublin in 1811 and died there in 1899. Displaying a decided predilection for music in boyhood days, he served an apprenticeship to James Barton 1821-1826, after which he entered the Theatre Royal Orchestra, being then fifteen years old. A few years later he became musical director.

As a violinist of unusual gifts he was well known at the Crystal Palace Handel Festivals, and other musical events in London, and the event which led to his change of name occurred during his first visit to the metropolis. When asked his name by the official in charge of enrolment, he promptly replied ‘Richard Michael O’Shaughnessy.’

    ‘Richard Michael O’Whatnessy?’ echoed the astonished official.

    ‘O’Shaughnessy,’ repeated the bewildered violinist.

    ‘My friend,’ volunteered his questioner, ‘You can never hope to make a success in professional life with an unpronounceable name like that. By the way what was your mother’s maiden name?’

    When told it was Leavy he wrote down Levey and announced to the abashed musician, ‘Hereafter you will be known as R. M. Levey in this establishment.’ And so it is by that Hebraic cognomen that he is known in musical history.

    Wallace and Balfe were among his most intimate friends. He toured Ireland in 1839 with the latter’s opera company. In all, Levey composed fifty overtures and arranged the music for forty four pantomimes, and he often alluded, with pardonable pride, to Sir Robert Stewart and Charles Villiers as his pupils. He was also professor of the violin at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, of which he was one of the founders.

    His oldest son and namesake, born in 1833, became a violinist of renown and won distinction at concerts in Paris, and later in London, where he was known as ‘Paganini Redivus’. Another son, William Charles Levey, no less talented, also won recognition in Paris and was subsequently conductor at Drury Lane and Covent Garden theatres.

    With all his accumulated honours, this famous Irish musician did not disdain the simple folk music of his ancestors. On the contrary, all through his life he cherished a love for the unpretentious melodies of the Green Isle, which he noted down from the playing of traditional fiddlers and fluters in Dublin and London.
In the latter city he published, in 1858 and 1873, two unclassified collections of The Dance Music of Ireland, each containing 100 tunes. Only in one instance, he tells us in a footnote, did he alter in the slightest degree the tunes which he obtained as above stated. Levey’s was the first work ever printed devoted to Irish Dance Music exclusively.

    Francis O’Neill, Irish Minstrels and Musicians (1913)