He’s As Good As They Say


Francesco Geminiani spent much of the 1730s in London and Paris, giving concerts and selling, or attempting to sell, subscriptions to a proposed book of music instruction. In 1737 he went to Dublin and stayed for three years. It was probably inevitable that he would meet the greatest of Irish harpers, Turlough O’Carolan. According to Joseph C. Walker, writing in 1789, Geminiani couldn’t resist conducting an experiment:

And it is a fact well ascertained, that the fame of Carolan having reached the ears of an eminent Italian music-master in Dublin, he put his abilities to a severe test and the issue of the trial convinced him how well founded everything had been, which was advanced in favor of our Irish Bard. The method he made use of was as follows.

He singled out an excellent piece of music, and highly in the style of the country which gave him birth; here and there he either altered or mutilated the piece, but in such a manner as that no one but a real judge could make a discovery. Carolan bestowed the greatest attention upon the performer while he played it, not knowing, however, that it was intended as a trial of his skill; and that the critical moment was at hand, which was to determine his reputation forever.

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He declared it an admirable piece of music; but, to the astonishment of all present, said, very humorously, in his own language tá sé air chois air bacaighe, that is, here and there it limps and stumbles. He was prayed to rectify the errors, which he accordingly did. In this state the piece was sent from Connaught to Dublin; and the Italian no sooner saw the amendments, than he pronounced Carolan to be a true musical genius.

At the end of his long career, the famous harpist had proven that his reputation as a great musician was well-founded.