The Litany of the Saints: Musical Quotations and Influences in the Music of Tommie Potts.

Liszt's 'Hungarian Rhapsody' and 'Rakish Paddy'


The first revelation that Potts made to me concerning motivic borrowing in his music occurred during our meeting in May 1982 at Glenstal Abbey, Co Limerick. During a video taping session, he expressed a willingness to demonstrate to camera some musically detailed points about his “variations”. While playing his five-part setting of the reel ‘Rakish Paddy’, he paused on a number of occasions and indicated at one point a borrowing from Liszt.

POTTS: There’s a variation from the Liszt Rhapsody. [plays]

MOS: That’s fascinating! What do you mean “from  Liszt's Rhapsody”? That’s a variation that you heard in one of Liszt’s Rhapsodises?

POTTS:  Yeah!

MOS: You don’t know which one?

POTTS: I think its no. 2 or 11. It’s in this one [long pause as he tries to remember the opening theme of the Liszt Rhapsody in question]. That one [ plays the opening theme in a free semi-metrical style]. It’s from that particular Rhapsody of Liszt’s. Again, the purists would shoot me for that!
[Speech Transcriptions, p.15 see Ó Súilleabháin 1987]


Video 2. Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. Quoted piece begins at 1.50

YouTube video URL:


Potts was aware of my own experimentations with Irish traditional music, and it was plain from his reference to ‘the purists’ that as far as he was concerned I did not fit into that category. This may have been of significant advantage in his helping me to identify these ‘foreign’ elements in his music.

The borrowing in question here is from Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C Minor - perhaps the composer’s most famous piece, and one which has been subjected to countless arrangements (including some by Liszt himself). At any rate, it is the secondary ‘link’ motif on the Vivace section (see Illustration 3) which Potts uses in his setting of ‘Rakish Paddy’. Illustration 4 shows the context in which the Liszt motif appears in the Potts setting. ‘Rakish Paddy’ is widely known in the mainstream tradition as a two-part reel (see O’Neill 1907, tune no.749; and Michell 1976, tune no. 63). As I have already mentioned, Potts played a five-part version, with the additional three parts all in the nature of ‘variations’ on the second part. It is significant that the first half of the ‘second part’ is used by Potts in all cases for the development of variations, with the music moving back into phase with ‘the model’ for the second half. I have noted elsewhere (Ó Súilleabháin 1996) this practice of Potts where he moves in and out of ‘phase’ with the received traditional version (‘the model’) of the tune. What is important here, however, is that the Liszt motif provides the inspiration for the fourth part of Potts’ ‘Rakish Paddy’ in that it occupies the opening four bars of that part (bars 49 - 52). Following those four bars, however, Potts does not move back into phase with the traditional model more or less immediately as he does in the other two additional parts (i.e. parts 3 and 5). Instead, he inserts an additional two-bar motif (bars 53 - 54) that continues the style of the Liszt motif before linking with the model as usual (bars 55 - 58). The result is a ten-bar part instead of the usual eight-bar one. In stitching the Liszt motif into the traditional reel (note ‘rhapsody’ from the Greek rhapto: stitch), Potts creates an irregular part, echoing the dictionary definition of ‘rhapsody’ as ‘an emotional irregular piece of music’. This disposition of Potts towards the rhapsodic within 19th century romanticism is something that is discussed in Ó Súilleabháin 1987 (Chapter 9). At this point, however, it leads naturally to our next example of musical borrowing.


Illustration 3

Illustration 3. Motif from the Vivace section of Liszt's Rhapsody No 2 in C Minor (used by Potts in 'Rakish Paddy')


Illustration 4

Illustration 4. The Liszt motif (Bars 49 - 52) from Hungarian Rhapsody No 2 as used by Potts in 'Rakish Paddy')