The road ends, but the journey continues...

Carolan’s Concerto


Turlough O’Carolan.

Most Celtic music enthusiasts and instrumentalists are familiar with this man’s body of work and prominence of place within the Irish folk tradition.

Turlough O'Carolan on Irish 50 pound note

Long credited as being Ireland’s national composer, Turlough was born in 1670 and lived during the Baroque Era* of Western musical history. That Baroque reference is important to note. While traveling the lands of the Emerald Isle as an itinerant harper, he was in fact a contemporary of Scarlatti, Geminiani and Corelli – all composers of varying prominence of the day.

Put another way: Turlough O’Carolan could be called the Baroque Bard of Ireland.

My off-the-cuff quip notwithstanding, a rich mingling of musical traditions is indeed the basis of Carolan’s Concerto.

“In Carolan’s time, there were three musical traditions in Ireland – art music, folk music, and the harper tradition. The harper tradition served as a link between art and folk music and was the main conduit for the oral tradition. Carolan created a unique style by combining these art forms, and then adding elements inspired by Italian music which was then fashionable in Ireland. He was a great admirer of Vivaldi and Corelli, whose modern music he would have heard in the homes of his noble Irish patrons, and this admiration is reflected in the melodic construction and forms of many of his pieces. In fact, it’s said that his Carolan’s Concerto was a winning response to a compositional challenge from Geminiani, an acquaintance, colleague, and contemporary.”

Bridget Haggerty, Tribute to Turlough

My Take

Shortly before the beginning of the infamous New Year of 2020, I earnestly tackled composing an arrangement of this piece.

I wanted to adapt it for solo classical guitar in like forever and was pleasantly amazed at how it came together so quickly. I even produced two possible endings and put them up for a vote with my son and son-in-law – both musicians.

Consensus: First ending.

My take on Carolan’s Concerto was proving to be a breath of fresh air and loads of fun.

Carolan's Concerto excerpt
score excerpt ©2020 LBL/Purple Tulip Music

Within weeks of that previously mentioned infamous New Year of 2020, I started serious practice of my new arrangement.

General impression: It is good. It is a completed piece.

Carolan’s Concerto – arr. for solo classical guitar by Laura Bruno Lilly ©2020
(NOTION score computer playback)

A computer generated playback of my arrangement of the Celtic tune Carolan’s Concerto, written by the blind Irish Bard – harpist, troubadour and composer – Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738).

It was also too fast for me to play a tempo.

Discouraged, I set it aside.

Until a few weeks ago. That’s when I pulled it out for a re-look and when the ‘obvious’ hit me.

Why not play it anyway? Who says it has to be performed at such a scathing tempo?

Besides, the traditional tempo set for that piece is also traditionally variable.

A lively rendition of Carolan’s Concerto played ‘a tempo’

Here’s the thing:

Not every guitarist is a shredder, lightening fast player. Plus, my arrangement is not a single line ‘solo’ that can be easily ‘shredded’!

Even after properly practicing certain passages of the piece at slower tempos and then speeding them up incrementally I may never get it up to the tempo as played in the above video.

So what?

Play it. Just. Play it.

“Some players are simply faster than others, the way some athletes are faster, bigger, stronger, etc. Still, none of that means ‘better.’ So, find your own performance tempo, and then bring more of yourself to the piece. Remember, you possess your own sound, tone, phrasing, attack, texture, etc. If you highlight those qualities, I promise you, no one will ever complain about the tempo.”

Shawn Persinger, Wood & Steel magazine, vol 99, Issue 1, 2021

*period or style of Western art music composed from ~1600-1750. A good synopsis of the times, characteristics and elements of the music can be found here.


  1. zippyquilts

    I enjoyed listening to your version, especially because all Celtic music sounds alike after a while to us non-musicians. That said, I do love the Chieftans.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Thanks for the thumbs up, Zippy!
      BTW: I get it about Celtic music sometimes sounding alike after awhile – musician or not!

  2. Susanne

    I like your arrangement of this! O’Carolan’s concerto is such a beautiful piece. It’s been on my to-do list for so long but I’ve never taken the time to learn it. I’d love to learn to play it on the concertina. It would be lovely on the classical guitar – you don’t have to play it fast! It’s a lovely piece at whatever tempo, in my opinion.
    There are so many good O’Carolan tunes, make sure you explore the rest after this!

    • laura bruno lilly

      Hello Susanne, welcome to my blog and thank you for your comment. You are so right about the wealth of fine O’Carolan tunes to explore. I hope you create an arrangement for the concertina – it would add a new dimension to the Bard’s body of work!

  3. merrildsmith

    I’m not a musician, but I enjoyed your arrangement. To me, the tempo and arrangement had a Baroque feel, which seems to fit the composer and his time. I could imagine a stately court dance. And as people mentioned above, you found a project and enjoyed yourself!

    • laura bruno lilly

      Well, intuitively your ‘feelings’ are spot on! Interestingly, the ‘form’ of the Baroque and Carolan’s Folk/Celtic are similar – AABB – binary. And relating dance with types of music was the norm…therefore, dance tempos are/were more important than ‘shredder’ tempos.
      HA! Thanks for the fodder in defense of ‘my’ tempo. And thanks for stopping by, Merril.

      • merrildsmith

        I have some very basic knowledge of music history and more of history. You’re welcome!

  4. rl2b2017

    Hi Laura! It’s so nice to see a post from you and to hear that you are having fun again. The piece sounds wonderful to these lay person’s ears. It’s nice to be able to work on something you love, isn’t it?! {{Hugs}} ~smile~ Roseanne

    • laura bruno lilly

      OMG Roseanne, that wonderful Midwestern insight of yours honed in on an aspect of my latest venture I hadn’t considered…YEP I AM having fun again…as are you, too, so let’s keep on keepin’ on with renewed vim and vigour.
      hugs backatchya

  5. Lavinia Ross

    That is a nice arrangement, Laura!

    • laura bruno lilly

      Thanks, Lavinia. I’m sure you’ve played plenty of Celtic tunes (O’Carolan or not!) over the course of your own career. Fun stuff!

      • Lavinia Ross

        Actually not too many, though I love listening to them. 🙂

  6. snakesinthegrass2014

    You play so well, Laura! – Marty

    • laura bruno lilly

      Ahemmm, the audio is of my score program’s computer generated playback of my arrangement. Not to worry, many other before you made the same mistake and it’s easy to do…but hey – I’ll take a compliment on my playing anytime, anyway, so thanks!

  7. Jennie

    I love how you came full circle with this piece of music. I learned much from this post, Laura. I especially like the statement at the end comparing musicians to athletes. Thanks for this. You are very talented!

    • laura bruno lilly

      So happy to share my own slice of knowledge with you, teacher.

      • Jennie


  8. deborahbrasket

    I always love discovering new music. Thank you!

    • laura bruno lilly

      You’re more than welcome!

  9. Laura

    “So, find your own performance tempo, and then bring more of yourself to the piece.”

    A great approach to most anything, Laura! 🙂

    I don’t understand the technicalities of music, but I know what I like to listen to, and I enjoyed your computer rendition very much! I am with Stephen…just play it!

    • laura bruno lilly

      Seems like Stephen hears the same mantra you and I share: Start. Just. Start. AND Play it. Just. Play it.
      It’s good to know the arrangement is meeting with appreciation from others, thanks for that!

  10. L. Marie

    So wonderful, Laura, that you have the skill to do this! Beautiful! Thank you for posting! I didn’t know what a “shredder” was by the way. I always learn something when I read your posts!

    • laura bruno lilly

      LOL – ‘shredder’ pulls up plenty of images, doesn’t it? Thank you for the kudos!

  11. marissthequilter

    It was wonderful to be able to listen to your delicate playing on this sunny Saturday morning in Africa. l much prefer your version to that of The Chieftans. (Oh how I wish I knew more about music.)

    • laura bruno lilly

      That computer generated mp3 must really ‘sound’ like the real deal – you’re not the first one to think it was a person (me) playing. Interesting, that. But to clarify, that is not me performing/recording the piece; it is the NOTION computer score program playback.
      I am pleased you prefer my arrangement and tempo to the Chieftans…it gives me hope that my own performance will be pleasurable for others to hear once I do get it recorded!
      Take care, dear friend.

      • marissthequilter

        I did notice, but didn’t understand, the note about the computer version. So you can ‘tell’ your computer to play your compositions? Amazing.

        • laura bruno lilly

          Well, it does involve using a computer program (mine is NOTION but the gold-standard is FINALE) and entering all the notes on the score paper via a keyboard – one-by-one…but once you get used to the process, the plus is that it adds another tool to use in the ‘hearing’ of a composition as it’s being created, and when all is finished, a PDF of the score is easily printed out.
          I know TMI!

          • marissthequilter

            Again I say, amazing!

          • laura bruno lilly

            (picture blushing emoji here)
            Thanks, Mariss!

  12. piecefulwendy

    It’s lovely. Thank you for sharing it with us!

    • laura bruno lilly

      You’re welcome, Wendy.

  13. Cheryl, Gulf Coast Poet

    Laura, I used to have a couple of CDs of Irish folk music, which I like very much. One was called “Carolan’s Cottage”. I enjoyed the recording and look forward to your performance of your arrangement. <3 Enjoy your weekend!

    • laura bruno lilly

      Carolan’s music is certainly part of people’s lives – whether known or not! That’s just part of the ‘Irish Way’ IMHO!
      Thanks for stopping by, Cheryl.

  14. Stephen Waechter

    Just play it! As you deeply assimilate the piece, (at the intuitive level, not just rehearsed) the perfect tempo will emerge.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Stephen – what a pleasure to hear from you.
      Your encouragement is ‘spot-on’ and much appreciated.
      All the best in your own continued musical forays.

  15. Laura Kate

    Very nice. I like your playing.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Thank you – however, the mp3 is of the computer generated playback of the score I composed…not me playing. I have yet to record this piece, but am looking forward to doing so!

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