"Londonderry Air" is an air that originated in County Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The song "Danny Boy" uses the tune, with a set of lyrics written in the early 20th century.
Londonderry Air - Wikipedia
The tune was collected by Jane Ross (1810-1879) of Limavady in the county Londonderry.
Ross stated that she had taken down the tune in Limavady in 1851, when she heard it played by an itinerant fiddler. One of Ireland's most distinguished folk song collectors, Sam Henry, states in "Songs of the People" a regular weekly feature in the Northern Constitution (1923- 1939), that blind Jimmy McCurry (1830-1910) was the fiddler referred to by Jane Ross.
Ross submitted the tune to music collector George Petrie, and it was then published by the Society for the Preservation and Publication of the Melodies of Ireland in the 1855 book "The Ancient Music of Ireland", which Petrie edited. The tune was listed as an anonymous air ("Name Unknown"), with a note attributing its collection to Jane Ross of Limavady.
The origin of the tune was for a long time somewhat mysterious, as no other collector of folk tunes encountered it, and all known examples are descended from Ross's submission to Petrie's collection. In a 1934 article, Anne Geddes Gilchrist suggested that the performer Ross heard played the song with extreme rubato, causing Ross to mistake the time signature of the piece for common time (4/4) rather than 3/4. Gilchrist asserted that adjusting the rhythm of the piece as she proposed produced a tune more typical of Irish folk music.
In 1979, Hugh Shields found a long-forgotten traditional song which was very similar to Gilchrist's modified version of the melody. The song, "Aislean an Oigfear" (or "Aisling an Óigfhir", "The young man's dream"), had been transcribed by Edward Bunting in 1792, based on a performance by harper Donnchadh Ó Hámsaigh (Denis Hampsey) at the Belfast Harp Festival. Bunting published it in 1796 in "A General Collection of the Ancient Irish Music vol 1".
It was song #17 on page 10 from that book:
Here´s a MIDI of Bunting´s arrangement of "Aisling an Óigfhir"
And here´s a Youtube showing how that 1792 performance of Denis Hempsey might have sounded.
Aisling an Óigfhir - Siobhán Armstrong
The full article which Dr Hugh Shields published in 1979 is here:
In 1808 Thomas Moore (1770-1852) was probably the first one to write lyrics to the tune of "Aislean an Oigfear-The Young Man's Dream"
This song "As a Beam O'er the Face of the Waters May Glow" was included in the book "A Selection of Irish Melodies. With Symphonies and Accompaniments by Sir John Stevenson (Mus. Doc.) and Characteristic words by Thomas Moore Esq."
In 1914 Alma Gluck made a recording of the Thomas Moore version.
(c) Alma Gluck (1914) (as "As a Beam O'er the Face of the Waters")
With the Victor Orchestra
Recorded March 6, 1914 in Camden, New Jersey
Released on single-side disc Victor 64415
Also released on double-sided disc Victor 648
The most popular lyrics for the tune are "Danny_Boy" ("Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling"), written by English lawyer Frederic Edward Weatherly in 1910, initially to a different air, the song gained no popularity and was destined for a life of obscurity. But it was when his sister-in-law, Margaret, introduced Fred to one of her favourite Irish melodies, he saw a new opportunity. He reset his words to the 'old Irish air' and republished it in 1913
Weatherly gave the song to the vocalist Elsie Griffin, who made it one of the most popular songs in the new century; and, in 1915, Ernestine Schumann-Heink produced the first recording of "Danny Boy". That recording was destroyed and in 1917 she recorded the song again for the Victor-label
(c) Ernestine Schumann-Heink (1917) (as "Danny Boy")
Recorded September 26, 1917 in Camden, New Jersey
Released on single-side disc Victor 88592
Also released on double-sided disc Victor 6276
Victor matrix C-16502. Danny boy / Ernestine Schumann-Heink - Discography of American Historical Recordings
However around 1880, Alfred Perceval Graves, a friend of Fred Weatherley, had already written two lyrics to the melody and felt that Fred had poached the folk tune from him and never spoke to him again as a result.
Weatherley wrote; After my song had been accepted by the publisher I got to know that A.P. Graves had written two sets of words to the same melody: "Emer's Farewell" and "Erin's Apple Blossom" and I wrote to tell him what I had done. He took up a strange attitude. I am afraid my old friend Graves did not take my explanation in the spirit which I hoped from the author of those splendid words, "Father O'Flynn".
The excact title of Graves' song was "Love's Wishes" (or "Would I Were Erin's Apple Blossom o'er You"). Graves later stated "that setting was, to my mind, too much in the style of church music, and was not, I believe, a success in consequence."
The lyrics and music were in his book: "Irish Songs And Ballads" (1882)
The excact title of Graves' other song was "Emer's Farewell to Cucullain"
The lyrics and music were on page 3 in his book: "Songs of Old Ireland" (1882)
In 1892 Katharine Tynan Hinkson adapted Alfred Perceval Graves' lyrics and kept the tune for her composition "Irish Love Song" (or "Would God I Were The Tender Blossom")
(c) Oscar Seagle (1915) (as "Would I Were The Tender Apple Blossom")
Recorded June 23, 1915 in New York
Released on Columbia A 5700
Columbia matrix 37336. Would I were the tender apple blossom / Oscar Seagle - Discography of American Historical Recordings
(c) Pablo Casals (1922) ("Would God I Were The Tender Blossom")
Pablo Casals violoncello solo - piano accompaniment by Romano Romani
Recorded January 24, 1922 in
Released on Columbia # 80159
(c) John McCormack (1923) (as ("Would God I Were The Tender Blossom")
Recorded September 26, 1923 in Camden New Jersey
Released on Victor 983
Victor matrix B-28608. Would God I were the tender apple blossom / John McCormack - Discography of American Historical Recordings
(c) Glenn Miller (1940) (as "Danny Boy") (#17 Hit USA)
Judy Garland recorded the song in 1940 as part of her Irish-themed musical "Little Nellie Kelly", which was also Garland's first venture into adult roles. However, the song in question was cut from the finished film.
(c) Bing Crosby (1943) (as "Danny Boy")
With John Scott Trotter and his Orchestra
Recorded July 5, 1941 in Los Angeles.
(c) Conway Twitty (1959) (as "Danny Boy") (#10 USA Hit)
Recorded July 10, 1959 in Nashville, TN -
Released on MGM K-12826
(c) Patti LaBelle and Her Bluebells (1964) (as "Danny Boy") (#76 USA Hit)
(c) Johnny Cash (1965) (as "Danny Boy")
Recorded December 20-21, 1964 in Nashville, TN.
Released on the album "Orange Blossom Special".
In 2002 Johnny Cash would re-record the song for the album "American IV: The Man Comes Around".
(c) Elvis Presley (1976) (as "Danny Boy")
Recorded February 5, 1976 in The Jungle Room, Graceland, Memphis
Released on the album "From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee"
In 1979 Thin Lizzy incorporated an instrumental version of "Danny Boy" in the last song of the album "Black Rose".
(c) Thin Lizzy (1979) (as "Róisín Dubh (Black Rose): A Rock Legend"
Listen here ("Danny Boy" starts at 2 min and 10 sec)
Thin Lizzy had previously recorded an Jimi Hendrix-styled instrumental version, titled "Dan", on their Tribute to Deep Purple album in 1972. For this album they used the pseudonym Funky Junction.
(c) Het Nederlands Elftal en De Havenzangers met Ron Brandsteder (1990) (as "Hand In Hand Achter Oranje") (Dutch lyrics by Peter Koelewijn and Tom Peters)
The original air is believed by some to even date back to Rory Dall O'Cahan (c1550-1660), an Irish harpist (born in County Atrim, Ulster), who lived in Scotland in the late 17th century, were he died in Eglinton Castle, Kilwinning, North Ayrshire.
The tune he wrote was called "O'Cahan's Lament", inspired by the fact that in 1609 during the Plantation of Ulster, his family´s land was confiscated by English and Scottish planters.
Denis O'Hampsey, another blind harper from the Roe Valley brought the melody down to the 19th century. Denis was born at Craigmore near Garvagh in 1695, lived in three different centuries and died in 1807 at the age of 112 years. At an early age he decided to adopt music as a career and he commenced his studies under Bridget O'Cahan, who was related to Rory Dall O'Cahan.
Denis inherited a considerable repertoire from Bridget including "O'Cahan's Lament". Denis was to introduce this air throughout Ireland and Scotland as a result of his extensive travels in both countries. Denis O'Hampsey was one of ten harpers who assembled in Belfast in response to a general invitation to attend a Harp Festival in 1792.
Edward Bunting, a visitor at the 1792 Harp festival, was appointed to take down the airs in an attempt to revive and perpetuate the ancient music of Ireland.
In 1796 Denis O'Hampsey's version was published in Bunting's book "A General Collection of the Ancient Irish Music vol 1", which I mentioned earlier on in this post.
Charted versions of "Danny Boy" in the US Charts: see link below
More versions here:
A very thorough study of Danny Boy