Music in Ulysses
The numerous musical references scattered throughout Joyce's masterpiece play a strong central role in advancing the narrative and enhance both the effectiveness and the expressiveness of the stream-of-consciousness technique employed in the book. We come to know the characters in the book by their actions, words, thoughts, and memories; but it can be well argued that we come to understand them by their individual tastes in music and the melodies that flit through their minds in the course of the day.
A number of the songs mentioned or alluded to in the book have been recorded on the recently released CD, MORE Music from the Works of James Joyce, including:
Below is a sampling of additional song titles used by Joyce in Ulysses — and performed on Sunphone Records' first CD release — along with commentary on their importance to the action of the story:
There is a glancing reference to this Thomas Moore melody in the Scylla and Charybdis episode of Ulysses. It figures much more prominently in the Dubliners short story, "Two Gallants."
This is one of the most frequently referred to and significant musical allusions throughout Ulysses. Molly Bloom will be singing this song on her concert tour with Blazes Boylan and, indeed, the afternoon liaison between her and Blazes is ostensibly for the purpose of rehearsing the music for that concert, including this song. Bloom learns that the song will be included in the concert tour early in the morning, and it serves throughout his day and the novel Ulysses both as a leitmotif of Molly's adultery and as the theme song of her potential reconciliation with Bloom.
This is a song Bloom buys for his daughter Milly when she is taking piano lessons. Known in English as "The Flower Song," it is tied to Bloom's pen name, Henry Flower, which he uses in his clandestine correspondence with Martha Clifford. It is one of a number of flower references throughout Ulysses.
This cheerful ditty is perhaps the most frequently mentioned song in Ulysses. Milly's morning letter to Bloom erroneously refers to the song as having been written by Blazes Boylan, and Bloom associates the song with Boylan throughout much of the rest of the book. It becomes the motif of the universal temptress figures leading all men to their eventual destruction. Most of the subsequent references to the song in Ulysses are made by Bloom, who of course is never far from female temptation.
This song is first associated (in the Wandering Rocks episode of Ulysses) with Blazes Boylan, who steps to the catchy refrain as he marches down the street. We hear the song later played on the pianola in Bella Cohen's brothel during the Circe episode, where it is linked with Privates Carr and Compton, two British soldiers who eventually get into an altercation with an inebriated Stephen Dedalus.
The song features two young men discussing their girls; in the course of the conversation they find out that the respective girls share similar characteristics. Inevitably it turns out they are both talking of the same girl; and to make matters worse, the lads — who have decided to pay her a visit — are greeted at the door by her husband, who chases them off with his own rendition of the chorus of the song.
Obviously the song furthers the Odyssean theme of a universal temptress, suitors, and a husband who reclaims his right to her. In this way it is a direct parallel to the main dilemma of Ulysses.
This song is first alluded to in Joyce's early abortive novel Stephen Hero, where Father Moran advises Stephen to learn the song. It assumes major significance, however, in the Circe chapter of Ulysses, where Bloom fantasizes about becoming the leader of a new celestial golden city, the "new Bloomusalem." As Bella Cohen's gramophone blares out the song, Bloom's great edifice is erected and we get a comic parody look at what the new city of Dublin would be like under Bloom as an all-supreme ruler.
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