Swan Hennessy (1866-1929) was born in Illinois. But this Irish-American never forgot his roots. In fact, as a composer, he embraced them. Hennessy wrote in an Impressionist style heavily influenced by Irish and Breton folk music.
Hennessy wrote six works for string quartet – four numbered quartets, plus two shorter works. The first quartet was published in 1912, the last in 1929. While there’s a strong Celtic flavor to all these works, there’s also clear development over time.
The first quartet borders on a pastiche of Celtic music set for string quartet. It’s very appealing melodically, though rather simple in texture. The last two quartets, though, show Hennessy’s full integration of his influences.
Sections of the melodies do have an Irish lilt to them. Overall, however, the music has an organic development to it not hindered by Celtic mannerisms.
The RTE Contempo Quartet was the right choice to record this material. They have a rich, warm ensemble sound that’s perfectly in line with Impressionist sensibilities. Yet they also understand the Celtic elements of Hennessy’s works. They successfully bring out those elements without leaning too heavily into them.
The Celtic elements of Hennessy’s music might not appeal to everyone. But they certainly did to me. Hennessy once said, “it is the love of Ireland that has inspired my work.” It does, indeed.
Swan Hennessy: Complete String Quartets 1-4
Sérénade & String Trio
RTE Contempo Quartet
RTE Lyric FM CD 159