Sunphone Rec. Kevin McDermott & Ralph Richey : Music From The Works of James Joyce (IR,2003)***°
Sunphone Rec. Kevin McDermott & Ralph Richey : More Music from the Works of James Joyce (IR,2006)**°'
Kevin McDermott (tenor) and Ralph Richey both dedicated themselves to performing the investigations of the relationship of James Joyce with music.
When I was busy with James Joyce’s poems and started with an interest in finding similar decoded language into Dutch based upon a first attempt of translating a page from Ulysses, at that time I did not realise how much especially that last book was connected with Irish culture, life, and so many details that reveal the very heart of all what was happening there. I only knew I could not continue with that last attempt before knowing much more what was going on in there. This duo surely brings back something of the associations James Joyce surely would have had, especially in “Ulysses” and “Dubliners”, works that can’t do without the local and time perspective’s associations before feeling it all more completely. “Chamber Music” however I think pretty much stands on its own. The notes on the duos website describe the feeling perfectly :
“For, like Chamber Music, it really is less a piece of writing than a kind of music, an epic prose chorale. The book begs to be performed, the inert words on the page recited aloud in order to be brought to life and fully appreciated. In fact, that is exactly Joyce's advice: "It is all so simple. If anyone doesn't understand a passage, all he need do is read it aloud."
That’s how I was attracted to these poems, which I immediately recognised as songs. I usually made poems when listening to music, these were poems that had the music in them. “Bid Adieu to girlish days” is in fact the only song which was put onto paper by the writer himself, so that we know with this one how James Joyce thought about arranging his songs. Like I assumed a little (in my previous review of another “chamber songs” compilation of more modern interpretations), this sounds close to Schubert’s tradition of interpreting poems into music, but let’s say mixed with an admiration for Purcell. Purcell had been a great singer and he knew how to describe emotions, from frivoleness to the deepest sadness. The other added songs have something of a music hall collection, from street folk songs into a more classical character, to funny music hall songs, melodramas and stories. These were either songs mentioned in his writings or parts that were put into music at some stage by others. The music hall from James Joyce days was also described on the duos webpage as :
“Music hall performances often featured mixed bills of melodramas, ballads, light opera, popular songs, recitations, sketches, solo turns, and American-style minstrel routines, ranging in tone from the comical to the sentimental to the risqué.”
It gives an idea of the range of expressions. Besides James Joyce also found Wagner’s drama in music interesting to analyse, from music back into literature. He was not in fact so unfamiliar with even more theoretical analysys of the music that surrounded him. His father was a singer, and also he performed well, it was only a matter of chance that he rolled more into writing. And what was written about that music hall range : the duo is likely to provide. Some songs are recognisable especially for older people. My girlfriend recognised many of them : her mother used to sing at home. In those days there was no sound blinding television, radio and noise. All was part of some vibration in life. Some of such songs I remember only from Tiny Tim ; he was one of the only one not only remembering and bringing such songs, he was also capable of bringing back the personalities behind them. Kevin’s approach is a bit more operatic-tempered than that, it also gives as a wider range, and nice to hear again flashes of resembling points of also even a bit untouched and vague deeper recognitions. James Joyce had been inflicted by music in his days. These albums surely bring back to life certain lost connections.
I missed a bit more history on the songs and who wrote them. Luckily the website provided much more detail, but I could have consumed and wanted a complete book with it. Mentioned was the existence of the book on Joy’s musical allusions by prof.Zack R.Bowen (published 1974), of which some of its notes appear on the website.