On this day in 1839, Ireland was hit by a devastating storm. There was
a strange heat. Everything was unnaturally calm – so much so that voices
floated between houses over a mile apart. Around nine p.m. that evening a
light westerly breeze slowly grew into a fury and after midnight it blew a
fearful gale, reaching its height between three and five a.m. The ensuing
pandemonium saw buildings blown away, people and things flung about.
In its aftermath, seaweed was found on hilltops and herrings were picked up six
miles inland. Salt was tasted off trees forty miles from the sea.
The timing of the storm was significant. Epiphany is a feast of
revelation, the day Christ made his being known to the world and Nollaig na
mBan, a celebration of Little Woman’s Christmas, an important social occasion
with many ceilis.
The two movements of Sixth of January are played without a
break and the longer first movement Epiphany opens with a graceful duet for the
two soloists. A number of orchestral sequences introduce a swinging
triplet theme played by the soloists and this develops a hiccup-like stammer,
this process of transformation becoming the focus for the string
accompaniment. The opening duet later returns accompanied with long
chords creating a world of thickening texture. The two soloists nearly
always play together without ever confronting each other.
The final shorter movement The Big Wind also opens with a duet and this
movement consists of an alternation of two main ideas. The first, a
forceful unison line full of electric energy, appears in many guises. The
second appears as an escalator-like series of fast moving chords.
Sixth of January was premiered during the ICO Shannon
International Music Festival in St Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick and then featured
during the subsequent West Coast Irish Tour.