Brian Patrick Boydell, Irish composer whose works include orchestral pieces, chamber music, and songs, dies on November 8, 2000. He is Professor of Music at Trinity College Dublin for 20 years, founder of the Dowland Consort, conductor of the Dublin Orchestral Players, and a prolific broadcaster and writer on musical matters. He was also a prolific musicologist specialising in 18th-century Irish musical history.
Boydell is born on March 17, 1917, in Howth, County Dublin, into a prosperous Anglo-Irish family. His father James runs the family maltings business while his mother, Eileen Collins, is one of the first women graduates of Trinity College. Following their son’s birth, the Boydells move from Howth and live in a succession of rented houses before settling in Shankill, County Dublin. The young Boydell begins his formal education at Monkstown Park in Dublin and is subsequently sent to the Dragon School at Oxford, England. From there he goes to Rugby School, where he comes under the influence of Kenneth Stubbs, the music master. Although he later speaks of his resentment at the anti-Irish attitude he experiences at Rugby, he appreciates the very good education in science and music he receives there.
Having completed his secondary education, Boydell spends the summer of 1935 developing his musical knowledge at Heidelberg, Germany, where he writes his first songs and also studies organ. He wins a choral scholarship to Clare College, Cambridge, where, perhaps through parental pressure, he studies natural science, graduating in 1938 with a first-class degree.
However, his love of music leads him next to the Royal College of Music where he studies composition under Patrick Hadley, Herbert Howells and Vaughan Williams. Already a good pianist, he also becomes a proficient oboe player during this time.
Upon the outbreak of World War II, Boydell returns to Dublin and achieves further academic success in 1942 with a Bachelor of Music degree from Trinity College. He also takes further lessons in composition from John F. Larchet.
Boydell’s busy working life combines teaching, performing and composing. Following a brief stint in his father’s business, he plunges himself into Dublin’s classical music scene. In 1943, he succeeds Havelock Nelson as conductor of the Dublin Orchestral Players, beginning an association with the amateur orchestra that endures for a quarter of a century (until 1966). In 1944, he is appointed Professor of Singing at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, a position he holds for eight years. Along with fellow composers Edgar M. Deale, Aloys Fleischmann, and Frederick May he founds the Music Association of Ireland in 1948 as a vehicle to promote classical music throughout the country.
Boydell’s interest in Renaissance music, in particular the madrigal, leads in 1959 to founding the Dowland Consort, a vocal ensemble with which he performs for many years and records an LP. In 1962, having obtained a Doctorate in Music, he is appointed Professor of Music at Trinity College, a position he holds until 1982. He immediately revamps the course making it more relevant to the second half of the twentieth century. He also finds time to sit on the Arts Council throughout the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s.
Boydell’s communication skills combined with his infectious enthusiasm makes him a natural broadcaster. The appeal of his programmes on the history and performance of music, first on RTÉ Radio 1 and later on Telefís Éireann, go beyond a specialist audience and are, for many people, their introduction to a new world of aural pleasure.
Boydell has many interests beyond music. As a surrealist painter in the 1940s, having taken lessons from Mainie Jellett, he is a member of The White Stag Group. He is also passionate about cars and photography.
Following retirement from Trinity as Fellow Emeritus, Boydell devotes himself to musical scholarship, writing two books on the music of 18th century Dublin. He also contributes to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
Boydell dies at his home in Howth on November 8, 2000, at the age of 83 and in the company of his wife of 56 years, Mary (née Jones) and their sons, Cormac and Barra. A third son, Marnac, predeceases him.
Boydell is awarded several honorary titles in recognition of his services to music, including the Honorary Doctorate of Music from the National University of Ireland (1974), the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (1983), the election to Aosdána, Ireland’s academy of creative artists (1984), and Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Irish Academy of Music (1990).