Poetry and Music

James Joyce grew up in a household full of music. When he was a child, his family often spent the evening singing vocal music of all kinds, from ballads to arias. James himself had a fine tenor voice, and sang well enough to appear with his parents in a local concert when he was six. He later took voice lessons briefly, and won the bronze medal at the Feis Ceoil music festival in 1904. A singing career was one of the various occupations he seriously considered, which the distinguished Irish tenor John McCormack encouraged, offering to be his teacher. In the end, Joyce declined to follow that path, but he remained an avid concertgoer, and later became friends with the modernist composer George Antheil. Many years later he was thrilled to hear the Irish tenor John Sullivan, and became a vigorous promoter of Sullivan’s career. Music remained a motif in his life, reflected in the title Chamber Music and the musical sounds and rhythms of the “Sirens” chapter of Ulysses.

Items Exhibited in the Poetry and Music Section

James Joyce. “Dooleysprudence,” fragment of a song. Ca. 1916–1920.

James Joyce. Chamber Music. First edition. London: Elkin Mathews, 1907. [view]

Pierre Loti, “Upa-Upa.” Air copied out by James Joyce in a Letter to his Mother. February 21, 1903.

James Joyce. Pomes Penyeach. First edition. Paris: Shakespeare and Company, 1927.

Ottocaro Weiss. James Joyce Playing the Guitar. Zurich, 1915.
Gelatin silver print photograph.
Courtesy of the Poetry Collection, SUNY At Buffalo

Concert program including a choral setting of Ulysses by Mátyás Seiber. May 27, 1949.

View a photo of this exhibition case

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