String Quartet No.3 ‘The Keening’ (2007)

for String Quartet.

Duration: 15 mins.

​Commissioned by the Galway Music Residency and premiered by ConTempo Quartet. December 2007. Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin.

Programme Note

​​This piece was partly inspired by Breandán Ó Madagain’s book ‘Caointe agus Seancheolta Eile – Keening and other Old Irish Musics’In this book he describes the ancient Irish singing style called ‘Caoineadh’ or in English ‘Keening’. The English term is derived from the Irish and has been used to describe mournful cries of people all over the world. Recently keening has most particularly been attributed to Iraqi women lamenting the deaths occurring from the war there.

However according to Ó Madagain’s description there is a lot more to keening than the piercing cries it is often associated with. In his book he describes three main stages to the Keen. I have taken these descriptions as inspiration for the three movements of the work.

I. Ag Monabhar/Murmuring

“The mourner commences by some deep murmuring, repeating over and over the name of the deceased, such as ‘Thomas, Thomas, my sorrow and my loss”

II. Reacaireacht/Dirge

“The lone keener (more usually a woman) sang her verse to old reacaireacht music, chant like, many syllables on the same note, with little ornamentation and ending on a falling cadence”

III. Gol/Cry

“The gol…was the third stage of the round of keening – probably the culmination…..The music of the gol, in contrast to that of the preceding verse, was explosive and highly ornamented”.

What the critics say…
  • ‘the piece is notable for evoking the ancient via relatively modern string techniques that remain new sounding. Flynn has successfully appropriated something from Irish traditional music without any hint of “Celtic twilight” crossover style.’
    Michael Dungan (The Irish Times)
  • ‘It is a remarkable work, with powerful use of slow portamenti, the upper registers of the violins, and, in the second movement especially, microtones that strongly connect the quartet to sean-nós singing. ‘