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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
It's the whole pie with jam in.
James Joyce Unquote

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Music by Samuel Barber (opus 25, 1947);
words by James Joyce (from Finnegans Wake)

Courtesy of The Harry Fox Agency, Inc.

Liner Notes

Finnegans Wake

The evolution of Joyce's literary use of music might be stated as follows:

  1. title and subject (poetry)
  2. gloss (Dubliners)
  3. minor theme (Stephen Hero and Portrait)
  4. major theme and occasional technique (Ulysses)
  5. consubstantiation (Finnegans Wake)

In other words, Joyce's language has become music by the time he wrote his last great work.

To my mind, Samuel Barber (1910-1981) is the only composer to return the compliment, absorbing the essence of Joyce's wordplay and translating it into the "musicplay" of Nuvoletta. Some examples of the themes and techniques he utilized are the song's cyclic form and main theme, which evokes merry-go-round music; quotation (Wagner's famous "Tristan" chord sequence at tristis tristior tristissimus); multi-level puns (at first by ones and twos then by threes and fours..., the musical intervals in the voice and the rhythms in the piano "count along"); and sheer joy in the sound of sound (such as the unearthly echo of the weeping oh! oh! oh!, produced by the piano's vibrating open strings).

Anna Livia Plurabelle is an archetype of the feminine, specifically in the element of water, and even more specifically in the river Liffey. which bisects Dublin. The central concept of the novel is the endless cycle of all things, and through the book we see ALP begin as a small stream in the Wicklow hills, join the river Liffey, pass into the sea, ascend as vapor to form a cloud, and then — as the song begins (newly-born as Nuvoletta), gazing over the "bannistars" trying to decide whether she will return to earth as rain to start the whole cycle again....

[CD liner notes by Kevin McDermott]

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