The close relationship between James Joyce and music has long been recognized by his readers, critics, and biographers. Joyce, like his father, was both an excellent singer (with a sweet tenor voice) and an accomplished pianist with an encyclopedic mastery of music of every type and genre, rivaling his vast knowledge of world literature. As a writer, he nevertheless incorporated music into all his works in increasingly complex ways, starting with Chamber Music, continuing through Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist, and reaching a thematic zenith in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake.
Joyce was acquainted with music of all sorts, from grand opera to bawdy street ballads, and he interspersed countless allusions to these works throughout the body of his writings. What has long been rare in Joycean studies, however, is the opportunity to hear these songs performed in an historically accurate style that would be familiar to Joyce, and as his contemporaries would have heard them. This is not, however, simply a dry exercise in musical scholarship. Tenor Kevin McDermott and pianist Ralph Richey bring these almost-forgotten popular songs back to lovely life and give them a vibrancy that is the next best thing to going back in time and experiencing a live music hall performance circa 1904.
Besides helping our understanding of Joyce, studying his use of music is a wonderfully entertaining way to make the works more immediate and accessible. The selections on this recording (as with our first collection) are among the best known in the Joyce canon.