Hardebeck, Carl Gilbert (1869–1945), collector and arranger of traditional songs, teacher of music, and composer, was born 10 December 1869 in Clerkenwell, London, son of Carl Joseph Hardebeck, an expatriate German and a successful jeweller, and Catherine Hardebeck (née Jones), who was Welsh. Blind from a young age, Hardebeck was educated at the Royal Normal School of Music for the Blind in Norwood; he demonstrated an early facility at the keyboard, which was honed through his studies with Frederick Corder (1852–1932), the professor of composition at the Royal Academy of Music. Trained as a teacher and armed with venture capital provided by his father, Hardebeck moved to Belfast in 1893 as a partner in a music business. When this venture failed he turned to teaching and supplemented his income by assuming the post of organist in St Peter's catholic cathedral, which he held from 1904 to 1919.
While it was at least partially a commercial impulse that propelled Hardebeck to Belfast, it was his interest in the Gaelic revival and especially in traditional music that committed him to Ireland, where he became one of the strongest voices in advocating the creation of a distinctive and even insular musical praxis. Hardebeck opened a music room on the Falls Road, where like-minded friends gathered weekly to perform Irish music. His pupils of the time later affectionately recalled a large man with strong opinions. Hardebeck idealised the Irish peasantry and lauded the purity of the culture he discovered on his travels as a collector of traditional songs. His earliest industry in this regard was concentrated in the Donegal Gaeltacht. In 1919 he moved south to Cork, where his tenure first as master of the Municipal School of Music and later as holder of the Cork corporation chair of Irish music at the city's university – he was effectively the first holder of the chair of music at UCC – both proved controversial. He received neither the degree of moral support he had anticipated nor was he supplied with the living arrangements which had been agreed. He resigned the UCC position after a year and in 1923 returned to Belfast. Ten years later he moved to Dublin.
Despite the affliction of blindness, Hardebeck was an indefatigable pioneer, who dedicated his life to the preservation and propagation of Irish folk music and trusted that his work would act as an inspiration to future generations of creative writers. He was an occasional albeit significant contributor to the emerging debate on the character of Irish music (e. g. ‘Gregorian music: its resemblance to Irish traditional music’, Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society, iii (1905–6)). His principal contribution lay in collecting and publishing Irish songs, partsongs, and arrangements of Irish airs. He often published himself. This was the case with a series of volumes under the title Gems of melody, which were also published successively by Pigott (Dublin), Pohlmann (Dublin) and, in 1958, Mills Music (London). The sparse simplicity of the accompaniments to individual pieces, such as ‘A dandlin’ song' and ‘The song of Glen Dun’, attest to the arranger's belief in allowing the natural line of the air to shine through. ‘Úna bhán’ has found particular favour and has been recorded by a number of artists, including John McCormack (qv).
Hardebeck's original compositions are faithful to his interpretation of an Irish idiom but are not intrinsically exacting and take second place to his arrangements. His anthem ‘God of my salvation’ for contralto and chorus was awarded first prize at the inaugural Feis Ceoil in Dublin in 1897. Thereafter his style was increasingly influenced by his high esteem for the purity and simplicity of traditional music. Feis Ceoil provided a focus for his creative ambitions, most notably when he returned there with his cantata The red hand of Ulster in 1900. He also produced two Irish rhapsodies, the Meditation on an Irish lullaby, and some smaller incidental pieces, including the gentle Seoithín seó for medium-sized orchestra, which features a traditional lullaby and remains his most popular work. In addition he wrote a number of attractive songs.
In later years Hardebeck struggled financially and relied on the generosity of kind friends. He died 10 February 1945 at his home, 14 St Vincent St., Berkeley Road, Dublin.