seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Louis MacNeice, Poet & Playwright

louis-macneiceLouis MacNeice, British poet and playwright, is born in Belfast on September 12, 1907. He is a member, along with Wystan Hugh Auden, Cecil Day-Lewis, and Stephen Spender, of a group whose low-keyed, unpoetic, socially committed, and topical verse is the “new poetry” of the 1930s. His body of work is widely appreciated by the public during his lifetime, due in part to his relaxed but socially and emotionally aware style.

MacNeice is the youngest son of John Frederick MacNeice and Elizabeth Margaret (“Lily”) MacNeice. His father, a Protestant minister, goes go on to become a bishop of the Anglican Church of Ireland. The family moves to Carrickfergus, County Antrim, soon after MacNeice’s birth. His mother dies of tuberculosis in December 1914. In 1917, his father remarries to Georgina Greer and his sister Elizabeth is sent to board at a preparatory school at Sherborne, England. MacNeice joins her at Sherborne Preparatory School later in the year.

After studying at the University of Oxford (1926–30), MacNeice becomes a lecturer in classics at the University of Birmingham (1930–36) and later in the Department of Greek at the Bedford College for Women, London (1936–40). In 1941 he begins to write and produce radio plays for the British Broadcasting Corporation. Foremost among his fine radio verse plays is the dramatic fantasy The Dark Tower (1947), with music by Benjamin Britten.

MacNeice’s first book of poetry, Blind Fireworks, appears in 1929, followed by more than a dozen other volumes, such as Poems (1935), Autumn Journal (1939), Collected Poems, 1925–1948 (1949), and, posthumously, The Burning Perch (1963). An intellectual honesty, Celtic exuberance, and sardonic humour characterize his poetry, which combines a charming natural lyricism with the mundane patterns of colloquial speech. His most characteristic mood is that of the slightly detached, wryly observant, ironic and witty commentator. Among MacNeice’s prose works are Letters from Iceland (with W.H. Auden, 1937) and The Poetry of W.B. Yeats (1941). He is also a skilled translator, particularly of Horace and Aeschylus (The Agamemnon of Aeschylus, 1936).

By the early 1960s, MacNeice is “living on alcohol,” and eating very little, but still writing. In August 1963 he goes caving in Yorkshire to gather sound effects for his final radio play, Persons from Porlock. Caught in a storm on the moors, he does not change out of his wet clothes until he is home in Hertfordshire. Bronchitis evolves into viral pneumonia and he is admitted to hospital in London on August, 27. He dies there on September 3, 1963 at the age of 55. He is buried in Carrowdore churchyard in County Down, alongside his mother.

MacNeice’s final book of poems, The Burning Perch, is published a few days after his funeral. His life-long friend from Oxford, W.H. Auden, who gives a reading at MacNeice’s memorial service, describes the poems of his last two years as “among his very best.”


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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)