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James Joyce at the Piano in Paris, 1939 James Joyce: Music in the Novels and Poems
CD #2 Song List
Artwork for CD #2 cover

James Joyce Quote
I put it to you that he's on the square.
James Joyce Unquote

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From the opera The Colleen Bawn:
music by Michael Balfe;
words by Edmund Falconer

Liner Notes

Beloved of Irishmen for a century after its appearance in the 1860s, "Killarney" nonetheless has a strong whiff of the "West Briton" about it — the district was one of the first recognized tourist areas and catered to a primarily English clientele from the 1830s onward. The song is a species of musical postcard, rattling off the attractions to be seen — and heard; the final verse refers to one of the "must-dos," in which tourists were rowed about the lake while a cornetist sounded bugle calls to awaken echo.

"A Mother" (from Dubliners)

The preternaturally sensitive Joyce was almost surely aware of this aspect of the song when he used it prominently in the nationalist concert delineated in his story, "A Mother": an ironic musical evocation of a subservient Ireland offering its beauties (for a price) to moneyed and unthinking transients.

Considered as such — and with special regard to the character of businesslike, hard-bargaining Mrs. Kearney — it is interesting to wonder whether Joyce was aware of the song's genesis told by the composer's grandson to Harold Simpson, who repeated it in his Century of Ballads (1910):

[Dion] Boucicault wanted a song for his play and brought the words of "Killarney" to Balfe. Mrs. Balfe took them upstairs to her husband, who straightway sat down to the piano. Hardly had she left the room when her husband called her back, saying excitedly, "I have done the song; it is great. Tell Boucicault to come and hear it!" But Mrs. Balfe, who, like John Gilpin's wife "had a frugal mind," pointed out that if it were known how quickly he had composed the song he would never get anything for it. And so, after some discussion, she returned to Boucicault and said, "Balfe has an idea! If you call to-morrow or the next day he will have the song ready for you." Whether her strategy resulted to Balfe's financial advantage is not recorded, but it may be presumed that it did.

A Portrait of the Artist

Stephen's love interest, E.C., represents the feminine embodiment of Ireland — pure and virginal in some aspects, yet also a beautiful temptress. In Chapter 5 of A Portrait, Stephen's intellectual maturation results in a "rude, brutal anger" against his former beloved which distorts the idealized memory of her in his mind: "It broke up violently her fair image and flung the fragments on all sides."

What Stephen sees in E.C./Ireland now is a figure much degraded from the fairy tale ideal of his youth. He equates her with a flowergirl in a ragged dress "with damp coarse hair and a hoyden's face"; and also with the similarly uncomplimentary image from his memory of "the kitchengirl in the next house who sang over the clatter of her plates with the drawl of a country singer the first bars of By Killarney's Lakes and Fells."

At the same time, Stephen experiences a distinct ambivalence toward this woman/symbol: "And yet he felt that, however he might revile and mock her image, his anger was also a form of homage." This attitude encapsulates perfectly Joyce's own ambivalence toward his native Ireland, from which he exiled himself, yet about which he continued to write exclusively, and often with a sideways glance of deep affection.
[CD liner notes by Kevin McDermott]

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