seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Birth of Composer Siobhán Cleary

Siobhán Cleary, composer, is born in Dublin on May 10, 1970. Her most successful compositions are her orchestral works Alchemy and Cokaygne and her choral piece Theophilus Thistle and the Myth of Miss Muffett. Her opera Vampirella is first performed in Dublin in March 2017. She is a member of Aosdána.

Cleary starts to compose from an early age, often writing pieces while she is supposed to be practising at the piano. When she begins to study music at Maynooth University, she is initially inspired by Luciano Berio‘s Sinfonia, and soon afterwards by the works of the Irish composer Gerald Barry, the Frenchman Olivier Messiaen and the Hungarian György Ligeti. She continues her studies at Queen’s University Belfast and Trinity College, Dublin. In addition, she follows courses in composition with the Italian composer Franco Donatoni and the Dutchman Louis Andriessen and receives private tuition from the American Tom Johnson and the South African Kevin Volans. She also studies film scoring with the Italian composer Ennio Morricone and the American Don Brandon Ray.

Inspired by the alchemists’ Opus Alchymicum which describes how cheaper metals are transmuted into gold, Cleary’s orchestral work Alchemy (2001) is, like the stages in the Opus, presented in four parts: it evolves from the slow nigrendo, the moderate albedo, the strong citronatus, and the burning rubedo. The work is performed by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra in January 2002.

Cleary’s tone poem Cokaygne (2009), which, like Alchemy, is commissioned by RTÉ for the National Symphony Orchestra, is based on a poem and old sources which evoke a land of extreme luxury and contentment. The elaborately orchestrated piece is performed by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra in November 2009, Vladimir Altschuler conducting. It is performed by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra once again in June 2016, this time under the baton of Alan Buribayev.

Cleary’s choral work Theophilus Thistle and the Myth of Miss Muffett (2010), commissioned by the Cork International Choral Festival, is first performed in April 2011 by Chamber Choir Ireland directed by Paul Hillier. The work is based on a series of tongue twisters and other strange combinations of words popular in various European languages and dialects, moving from Italy, through Germany and Spain, finishing in Ireland. In 2013, it is performed twice by Chamber Choir Ireland in Dublin and Cork in connection with Ireland’s presidency of the European Union. The journalist and music critic Terry Blain comments on the choir’s “dazzingly virtuosic performance” in Belfast in 2013, qualifying the piece as “a tour de force of 21st century vocal chicanery, a clever and richly entertaining composition.” Theophilus Thistle is also performed the same year in the United States as part of the “Imagine Ireland” festival.

The chamber opera Vampirella with a libretto by Katy Hayes is first performed by students from the Royal Irish Academy of Music and the Lir National Academy of Dramatic Art at Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre in March 2017. Based on a short story by Angela Carter telling how a young English soldier is seduced by a vampire countess, it is directed by Conor Hanratty and conducted by Andrew Synnott. Michael Dervan of The Irish Times finds the electronic sounds in the score particularly effective, commenting, “Perhaps this is a case of a genuinely electronic opera trying to break out of a more conventional mold.”

In 1996, Cleary receives a young artists award from Pépinières européennes pour jeunes artistes, followed in 1997 by the first prize in the Arklow Music Festival Composers’ Competition. In 2008, she is invited to become a member of Aosdána, an Irish association of creative artists.


Leave a comment

Birth of Composer Gerald Barry

Gerald Barry, Irish composer, is born in Clarehill, Clarecastle, County Clare, on April 28, 1952.

Growing up in rural County Clare, Barry has little exposure to music except through the radio: “The thing that was the lightning flash for me, in terms of Saint Paul on the road to Damascus, would have been an aria from a Handel opera, from Xerxes maybe, that I heard on the radio. I heard this woman singing this, and bang – my head went. And that was how I discovered music.” He is educated at St. Flannan’s College, Ennis, County Clare. He goes on to study music at University College Dublin, in Amsterdam with Peter Schat, in Cologne with Karlheinz Stockhausen and Mauricio Kagel, and in Vienna with Friedrich Cerha. He teaches at University College Cork from 1982 to 1986.

“Barry’s is a world of sharp edges, of precisely defined yet utterly unpredictable musical objects. His music sounds like no one else’s in its diamond-like hardness, its humour, and sometimes, its violence.” He often conceives of material independently of its instrumental medium, recycling ideas from piece to piece, as in the reworking of Triorchic Blues from a violin to a piano piece to an aria for countertenor in his television opera The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit:

“It seemed to me unprecedented: the combination of the ferociously objective treatment of the material and the intense passion of the working-out, and both at an extreme of brilliance. And the harmony – that there was harmony at all, and that it was so beautiful and lapidary. It functions, again, irrationally, but powerfully, to build tension and to create structure. It wasn’t just repetitive. It builds. And the virtuosity, the display of it, that combination of things seemed, to me, to be new, and a major way forward.”

Barry’s most recent opera, The Importance of Being Earnest, has become a huge success after its world premiere at Los Angeles and European premiere at the Barbican, London. A critic comments:

“He writes ‘what he likes’ in the way Strindberg does, not trying to characterise his characters, but letting them perform his own specialties, a kind of platform for his own musical specialties. As in Strindberg where you feel every sentence stands for itself and the characters are sort of borrowed for the use of saying them (borrowed to flesh out the text, rather than the other way round), that they’ve been out for the day. In Gerald’s opera the whole apparatus – for that’s what it is – takes on a kind of surrealistic shape, like one person’s torso on someone else’s legs being forced to walk, half the characters in the opera and half the composer.”

It is written in The Irish Times that “no other Irish composer springs to mind who carries the same aura of excitement and originality or whose music means so much to such a wide range of listeners. Certainly, there has been no Irish premiere that has made the impression of The Conquest of Ireland since Barry’s opera The Intelligence Park was seen at the Gate Theatre in 1990.”

In a 2013 guide to Barry’s musical output, Tom Service of The Guardian praises Chevaux-de-frise (1988), The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (2005), Lisbon (2006), Beethoven (2008), and The Importance of Being Earnest (2012).