‘The Show Must Go On’ – Ina Boyle Song Recording in London

Ina Boyle portrait, TCD MS 4174/1

If she were alive in 2020, the Irish composer Ina Boyle (1889-1967) would be unfazed by the current Covid-19 restrictions. She was accustomed to living a relatively isolated and solitary life, rarely venturing far from her family home at Bushey Park, Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow. Yet that did not prevent her from seeking every opportunity to have her music performed and published, as she meticulously chronicled in her ‘Musical Compositions Memoranda’ (TCD MS 4172).

So Boyle would have been very gratified that a long-planned project to record most of her songs at the Wigmore Hall in London was not derailed by the pandemic, in spite of a few late obstacles. The original plan for a public lunchtime concert and live recording had to be abandoned, but the three Irish singers Paula Murrihy (mezzo-soprano), Robin Tritschler (tenor) and Ben McAteer (baritone), along with pianist Iain Burnside, assembled on the appointed day (28 October 2020) so that the recording team from Delphian Records could still capture their performances for a CD due to be released in 2021.

‘Musical Compositions Memoranda’, TCD MS 4172

Only two of Boyle’s songs for voice and piano were ever published, so in preparation for the recording 35 songs had to be edited and typeset from the original manuscripts held at the Library of Trinity College Dublin. There was a last-minute hiccup when the editorial team needed to recheck some details in the manuscripts, but found that the campus was by then open only to TCD staff and students. Happily, Research Collections staff were able to save the day by calling up the manuscripts, taking photographs of the relevant pages and dispatching them urgently to the editors so that they could meet the deadline for preparing definitive typeset scores for the performers.

3 Songs by Walter de la Mare, TCD MS 10960/3

The 37 songs recorded – from a total of 66 preserved in the manuscript collection – represent the full span of Ina Boyle’s life as a composer, from 1909 until 1966 (only a few short months before her death). About half come from the 1920s, her most prolific decade. Boyle was inspired to set words by a wide range of poets, from Sir Philip Sidney, George Herbert and Robert Herrick to more recent writers such as Walt Whitman, Rudyard Kipling, Edith Sitwell, and Walter de la Mare. Settings of poems by several near-contemporary Irish poets also feature – Eva Gore-Booth, Patrick Pearse, W.B. Yeats, Austin Clarke, and James Stephens.

An RTE television news report on the recording session is available (Boyle segment at 39:00 – 41:00). And four of the songs were included in Ben McAteer’s recital at the 2020 Belfast Festival (Boyle songs at 26:06 – 37:40). As well as the forthcoming CD, the typeset scores will be published next year by TU Dublin so that other singers will be able to add some of Boyle’s songs to their repertoire. This project is another great success for the Ina Boyle Society and its indefatigable director, Katie Rowan, in achieving their primary aim of bringing the music of this pioneering Irish woman composer to the ears of a much wider audience.

UPDATE: A video report of the Boyle song recording at the Wigmore Hall, including interviews with the artists, score editors and others involved in the production, is now available. The central role of the manuscripts collection is acknowledged.

Roy Stanley