Born in Dublin on 17th March 1917, Brian Boydell became one of the most influential figures in Irish cultural life from the 1940s until his death on 8th November 2000. After studies at Heidelberg, Cambridge, and London, Boydell embarked on a multi-faceted career as composer, conductor, singer, teacher, broadcaster, academic researcher and writer. For many years he represented the interests of creative artists on the Arts Council. He was appointed Professor of Music at the University of Dublin (Trinity College) in 1962, and developed the School of Music to the point that it became a fully-fledged academic department in 1974.
Notwithstanding his date of birth (St Patrick’s Day), in his approach to composition Boydell believed that self-conscious reliance on folk music idioms to denote Irishness was a cul-de-sac; instead national character would emerge naturally from the composer’s engagement with the cultural environment in which he lived.
To mark the centenary of his birth a selection of items from the Boydell archive (TCD MS 11128) is on display in the Long Room until the end of July, and a special conference will be held in the Trinity Long Room Hub and the Royal Irish Academy of Music on 23-24 June. As well as several of Boydell’s compositions, the display includes items which represent his musicological research, his participation in the Arts Council and Aosdána, his career as a performer and director of ensembles, and his deep immersion in the life of the College.
An archival collection which will be of great interest to Irish music enthusiasts is the papers of the family of Arthur Darley. Arthur Darley was a violinist, teacher, and collector of traditional Irish folk music. A founder member of the Feis Ceoil Association and the first director of the Dublin Municipal School of Music, Darley worried about ‘musical apathy’ in Ireland, which he countered by vigorously promoting Irish music festivals. The Darley archives were donated to the Library by Arthur Darley’s granddaughter Mary Warren Darley in 1996, and are available for consultation in the M&ARL Reading Room. Continue reading “Love for the divine art of music”
One of the aims of the ‘In Tune’ exhibition in the Long Room in 2013-14 was to draw scholarly attention to some of the significant music resources in our collections. It is therefore gratifying to learn that one of the more obscure items in the exhibition piqued the interest of a prominent musician, and has led him to mount what may be the first performance of this piece since its original outing in 1711.
Peter Whelan is a music graduate of TCD (2000), and is now an internationally-acclaimed bassoon soloist and ensemble musician. In the Chapel Royal at Dublin Castle at 1.00pm on Friday 12 June he will direct his Ensemble Marsyas in the first modern performance of ‘The Universal Applause of Mount Parnassus’, a serenata by John Sigismond Cousser written to celebrate the birthday of Queen Anne at Dublin Castle on 6 February 1711.
Cousser (1660-1727) was the first significant European composer to settle in Ireland. Born in Pressburg (now Bratislava), he studied in Paris with Jean-Baptiste Lully before holding musical appointments in various parts of Germany. He moved to London in 1704 and then to Dublin in July 1707.
Between 1708 and 1727 Cousser composed an ode or serenata each year in honour of the reigning monarch’s birthday, usually performed at Dublin Castle. In almost all cases the music for these odes has been lost, so the word-books, several of which are preserved in TCD’s collections, provide the only remaining evidence of their content. Uniquely, the music for the 1711 ode does survive (in the collection of the Bodleian Library, Oxford), and this has enabled the performance by Ensemble Marsyas as part of the KBC Great Music in Irish Houses Festival.
Thomas Tallis and William Byrd:Cantiones quae ab argumento sacrae vocantur (London, 1575). Shelfmark: OLS 192.n.40
The representation of Christ as the light of the world is a recurrent biblical image which has inspired a multitude of devotional texts, many of them set to music by composers in all eras. Thomas Tallis’s well-known motet ‘O nata lux de lumine’ (O light born of light) is a setting of stanzas from a Sarum hymn for the Feast of the Transfiguration, and was first published in Tallis and Byrd’s ‘Cantiones quae ab argumento sacrae vocantur’ in 1575. Continue reading “And there was Light – Day Three”
While music scores have been the central focus of the ‘In Tune’ exhibition, other items such as letters, photographs, and sound recordings have been included to provide context and add variety and colour. Some relevant images were available from our own collections, but others required some detective work.
To mark the 250th anniversary of the Chair of Music (one of the factors which prompted the exhibition), portraits of three former Professors were reproduced as hanging panels. One came from the College collection: the vivid portrait of Brian Boydell by Andrew Festing which hangs on the main stairway to the Senior Common Room. The other two were procured from external sources without much difficulty. A fine portrait of the first Professor, the Earl of Mornington, survives at Stratfield Saye, the country seat of his descendent the Duke of Wellington. And I happened to notice a portrait of Ebenezer Prout while visiting another college with which he was associated – the Royal Academy of Music in London.
The Library collections include striking photographs of two of the Irish composers featured in the exhibition – Ina Boyle and Brian Boydell – and Gerald Barry supplied a contemplative photograph of himself taken by Betty Freeman. The fourth composer – Frederick May – proved more elusive.
Two of May’s most celebrated compositions are included in the exhibition: his String Quartet (1936), and the vocal work ‘Songs from Prison’ (1941). The most readily-available photograph of the composer shows him several decades later, after ill-health had brought his composing career to a premature end. Dr Mark Fitzgerald drew my attention to two earlier newspaper photographs of May: the first published in the Irish Independent on 1 January 1936 to mark his appointment as musical director at the Abbey Theatre, and the second from the Irish Times in 1943. Both were too ‘grainy’ for use in the exhibition, but the Independent image was produced by Lafayette Studios so there was a possibility that a better print might still exist. Unfortunately not, however: enquiries to both Lafayette and the Abbey Theatre brought a similar response – “We had a fire …”
Salvation came from an unexpected source. Dr Ita Beausang, while researching Ina Boyle, had acquired a photograph of Boyle together with three fellow composers, taken in West Cork in 1938 by Tilly Fleischmann after a concert of their works conducted by her son Aloys. One of the four was a youthful Frederick May. The photograph exists in an album now owned by Ruth and Maeve Fleischmann, who kindly arranged for a digital copy by Roisin O’Brien to be delivered just on time for the exhibition launch.
In Tune, sponsored by KBC Bank, runs until 1 April 2014.The exhibition is also available online. Full details of the accompanying lecture and concert series are available here.