seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of A. J. Potter, Composer & Teacher

Archibald James (Archie) Potter, Irish composer and teacher who writes hundreds of works including operas, a mass, and four ballets, as well as orchestral and chamber music, is born in Belfast on September 22, 1918.

Potter is born to a Presbyterian family who, oddly, lives on the Falls Road, a republican (Catholic) stronghold. His father is a church organist and piano tuner who jas been blind since childhood. His mother is, in Potter’s own words, “a raging alcoholic.” He escapes a rather grim childhood when he goes to live with an aunt in Kent, England.

Possessed of a good voice and natural musical ability, Potter is accepted as a treble by the world-famous choir of All Saints, Margaret Street. In 1933, after four years as a chorister, he is sent to Clifton College, Bristol. From there he goes to the Royal College of Music on a scholarship and studies composition under Vaughan Williams. While at the Royal College he wins the Cobbett prize for chamber music.

World War II interrupts Potter’s music education, and he leaves college to serve with the London Irish Rifles in Europe and the Far East. After the war he settles in Dublin, where he continues his studies at Trinity College, Dublin, gaining a Doctorate in Music in 1953.

Potter had already started composing chamber and vocal music before the war. Now, established in Dublin, he chooses the orchestra as his principal means of expression. His early pieces, such as Rhapsody under a High Sky and Overture to a Kitchen Comedy, show that he has absorbed Vaughan Williams’ pastoral style and his love of folk music. In 1952, both pieces are awarded Radio Éireann‘s “Carolan Prize” for orchestral composition by the adjudicator Arnold Bax. A year later Potter repeats this success when his Concerto da Chiesa, a concerto for piano and orchestra, also wins the Carolan Prize.

In 1955 Potter is appointed Professor of Composition at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, where he becomes an effective administrator and inspiring teacher.

In the 1960s, Potter turns to ballet, writing four orchestral scores for the Cork Ballet company. The first of these, Careless Love, becomes the composer’s own favourite of all his compositions. Several years later, following a successful battle with alcoholism, he writes what some regard as his magnum opus, Sinfonia “de Profundis” (1969). The première is given at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin on March 23, 1969 in a performance by the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Albert Rosen. The Irish Times refers to the concert as a “major national event.” In December 1969, he receives a Jacob’s Award for the composition.

Potter’s last substantial work, an opera entitled The Wedding, receives its first public performance in Dublin in 1981, almost a year after his death.

Potter dies suddenly at his home in Greystones, County Wicklow on July 5, 1980, at the age of 61. He is buried in the nearby Redford cemetery.


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Death of George Alexander Osborne, Composer & Pianist

george-alexander-osborneGeorge Alexander Osborne, Irish composer, pianist and director of the Royal Academy of Music, dies at his home in Regent’s Park, London on November 17, 1893.

Osborne is born in Limerick, County Limerick. He leaves Ireland for Brussels at the age of eighteen, where he is appointed music instructor for the eldest son of the Dutch king, William of Orange, and becomes friends with Charles de Bériot. With de Bériot he is later to compose more than thirty duos for violin and piano, which enjoy great popularity.

In 1830 Osborne fights for the royalists in the Belgian Revolution, and after his capture and release he moves to Paris. Here he studies under Johann Peter Pixis, François-Joseph Fétis and Friedrich Kalkbrenner and becomes friendly with some of the leading musicians of his time including Hector Berlioz and Frédéric Chopin.

In 1843, Osborne settles permanently in London, although he maintains a home in Paris until 1848, when he encourages a nervous Chopin during the latter’s tour of England in 1848. In London he holds directorships of the Royal Philharmonic Society and the Royal Academy of Music and conducts the Amateur Musical Society from 1852.

Osborne’s compositions are mostly on a small scale and include 83 original piano works, 178 transcriptions and fantasias for piano solo, 24 piano duos, 44 vocal works and 55 chamber music pieces. His unpublished works include two operas and some orchestral overtures, all now lost. Berlioz observes that Osborne’s songs and trios are “lofty in style and spacious in design.” One of his most popular compositions is a piano piece entitled La Pluie de perles (Shower of Pearls), which goes through many editions. Some of his piano music is written to display his own virtuosity, while others are conceived as salon music for domestic entertainment.

George Alexander Osborne dies on November 17, 1893 at his home in Regent’s Park, London, at the age of 87.


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Birth of James Joyce, Novelist, Short Story Writer & Poet

james-joyceJames Augustine Aloysius Joyce, Irish novelist, short story writer, and poet, is born in 41 Brighton Square, Rathgar, Dublin on February 2, 1882. He contributes to the modernist avant-garde and is regarded as one of the most influential and important authors of the 20th century.

Joyce is one of the ten children of Mary Jane “May” Murray and John Stanislaus Joyce, a professional singer and later rate-collector from a bourgeois Catholic family. He attends Clongowes Wood College, a Jesuit boarding school, until 1891, when his father’s financial worries mean they can no longer afford to send him there. He is temporarily home-schooled and spends a short time at a Christian Brothers school, before starting at Belvedere College, a Jesuit day school run by his old Clongowes headmaster, Father John Conmee.

Much of Joyce’s childhood is influenced by his charismatic, but increasingly alcohol-dependent and difficult father, whose ongoing financial troubles led to regular domestic upheaval. However, John Joyce’s passions, eccentricities, as well as his gift as a singer are celebrated in his son’s work. The death of the Irish Home Rule movement leader Charles Stewart Parnell in 1891 is a watershed moment in Joyce’s life, and was the subject of an inflammatory argument during a Christmas dinner, in which John Joyce and his friend John Kelly passionately defend Parnell from the accusations of the pious Elizabeth Conway. Joyce recreates the scene in A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, portraying Kelly’s character, Mr. Casey, crying loudly with a “sob of pain,” “Poor Parnell! … My dead king!”

Joyce attends University College Dublin in 1899-1902, where he studies modern languages, with Latin and logic. In 1902 he goes to Paris with an intent of studying medicine but discovers, on arrival, that he does not have the necessary qualifications. He constantly struggles for money, relying on irregular work as a teacher, bank employee, cinema-owner and tweed-importer, and on patrons and supporters such as Harriet Shaw Weaver and Ezra Pound.

Joyce returns to Ireland in 1903 after his mother falls ill. She dies in August 1903. He refuses to take the sacraments or kneel at her deathbed, and the guilt he later feels is depicted in Ulysses when the ghost of Stephen’s mother returns to haunt him. On June 16, 1904, he meets Nora Barnacle, the woman with whom he spends the rest of his life. By autumn, he is convinced of the impossibility of remaining in Ireland and persuades Nora to travel with him. They arrive in Paris on October 9, 1904. He would not return to Ireland to live. He cultivates a sense of himself as an exile, living in Trieste, Zürich, Rome and Paris.

Joyce’s first publication in 1907 is the poetry collection Chamber Music. When he sends Pound a revised first chapter of Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, along with the manuscript of his short story collection Dubliners, Pound arranges for Portrait to be published serially in the modernist magazine The Egoist between 1914 and 1915. His short story collection, Dubliners, had been delayed by years of arguments with printers over its contents, but is also published in 1914.

Joyce then begins work on Ulysses, an experimental account of a single day in Dublin. The novel is serialised between 1918 and 1920, but full publication is delayed due to problems with American obscenity laws. The work is finally published in book form by his friend Sylvia Beach in Paris in 1922. His play Exiles is first performed in German in 1919, and English in 1926. His last novel, Finnegans Wake (1939), is an innovative language experiment that contains over 40 languages and a huge variety of popular and arcane references.

On January 11, 1941, Joyce undergoes surgery in Zürich for a perforated duodenal ulcer. He falls into a coma the following day. He awakes at 2:00 AM on January 13, 1941, and asks a nurse to call his wife and son, before losing consciousness again. They are en-route when he dies 15 minutes later, less than a month short of his 59th birthday. He is buried in the Fluntern Cemetery, Zürich.


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Birth of Sir Arnold Bax, Composer, Poet & Author

arnold-baxSir Arnold Edward Trevor Bax, English composer, poet, and author, is born to a prosperous family in the London suburb of Streatham on November 8, 1883. His prolific output includes songs, choral music, chamber pieces, and solo piano works, but he is best known for his orchestral music. In addition to a series of symphonic poems he writes seven symphonies and is for a time widely regarded as the leading British symphonist.

Bax is encouraged by his parents to pursue a career in music, and his private income enables him to follow his own path as a composer without regard for fashion or orthodoxy. Consequently, he comes to be regarded in musical circles as an important but isolated figure.

After a preparatory school in Balham, Bax attends the Hampstead Conservatoire during the 1890s. In 1900 he moves on to the Royal Academy of Music, where he remains until 1905, studying composition with Frederick Corder and piano with Tobias Matthay.

While still a student at the Royal Academy of Music, Bax becomes fascinated with Ireland and Celtic culture, which become a strong influence on his early development. In the years before World War I he lives in Ireland and becomes a member of Dublin literary circles, writing fiction and verse under the pseudonym Dermot O’Byrne. Later, he develops an affinity with Nordic culture, which for a time supersedes his Celtic influences in the years after World War I.

Between 1910 and 1920 Bax writes a large amount of music, including the symphonic poem Tintagel, his best-known work. During this period he forms a lifelong association with the pianist Harriet Cohen – at first an affair, then a friendship, and always a close professional relationship. In the 1920s he begins the series of seven symphonies which form the heart of his orchestral output.

In 1942 Bax is appointed Master of the King’s Music, but composes little in that capacity. In his last years he maintains a contented retirement for much of the time but finds his music regarded as old-fashioned, and after his death it is generally neglected.

Celebrations are planned by the Hallé Orchestra and others to celebrate Bax’s seventieth birthday in November 1953. However, the celebrations become memorials as while visiting Cork in October 1953 he dies suddenly of heart failure. He is interred in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery, Cork.

From the 1960s onwards, mainly through a growing number of commercial recordings, his music is gradually rediscovered, although little of it is heard with any frequency in the concert hall. In more recent years, his music has been rediscovered enthusiastically by a new generation via online distribution services such as YouTube.

(Picture credit to Alan Patient of http://www.plaquesoflondon.co.uk)