James Joyce playing the guitar in Trieste, 1915 James Joyce: Music in the Novels and Poems

James Joyce Quote
On almost every page of Joyce you will find just such swift alternation of subjective beauty and external shabbiness, squalor, and sordidness. It is the bass and treble of his method. And he has his scope beyond that of the novelists his contemporaries, in just so far as whole stretches of his keyboard are utterly out of their compass.
James Joyce Unquote

[ Ezra Pound ]

Stephen Hero
see also
Stephen Hero

Music in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

A Portrait of the Artist

Joyce's first attempt at limning in modern prose the inner experience of the artist, Stephen Hero, was a failure, not because it was written "badly," but because the material had hold of him and not the other way around. It is a gigantic exercise in miscalculation. With A Portrait, however, the reader senses at once that the master now is firmly in control of his material — an opinion echoed in an early review of the book by H.G. Wells.

There is a reason this novel is not entitled A Portrait of the Writer.... Poet and writer though he may be, Stephen Dedalus experiences the world as a series of sensations that only an artist, in the wider sense, can express and render in his craft.

And it is abundantly clear from the very first page of the book that, while Stephen perceives the world visually, as an artist would, like a musician he appreciates it aurally. Joyce's character is constantly aware of the sounds around him, hearing them, analyzing them, pulling them apart and reconstituting them as poetry — thinking, improvising, creating, not ex nihilo but out of all the material, the base along with the sublime, of the world that he inhabits.

In the book, a significant part of that world revolves around music, with all its attendant meanings and uses. The way that Joyce seamlessly works the various songs mentioned into his narrative foreshadows the total integration of matter and style that later on would characterize Ulysses.

Three of the several musical pieces alluded to in A Portrait are performed on the CD Music from the Works of James Joyce:

Brigid's Song
(or, "Dingdong! The Castle Bell!")

This piece appears in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, where a very young Stephen Dedalus quotes it verbatim, thinking in his sick bed how sweet and sad the words are and how sentimental his own funeral is likely to be. It is one of the first indications of Stephen's preoccupation with sounds and words.
[from CD liner notes, contributed by Prof. Zack Bowen]

Oft in the Stilly Night

This beautiful Thomas Moore song (arranged by Sir John Stevenson) is sung by Stephen's poverty-stricken family as they sit in the dark awaiting their meager supper. The lyrics and melody stir up memories of childhood and departed friends, and makes the persona feel like

...one who treads alone
Some banquet-hall deserted,
Whose lights are fled,...

Stephen, in attempting to dissociate himself from his family and home, is deeply stirred by the song and the unhappy condition of his brothers and sisters, and for a moment he is sorely tempted to remain in Ireland rather than flee to the Continent to pursue his destiny as an artist.
[from CD liner notes, contributed by Prof. Zack Bowen]

Sweet Rosie O'Grady

At the very end of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Cranly uses this rollicking Irish-American music hall song, the great success of 1896, to probe Stephen's overly intellectual, symbolic approach to reality. Like Father Moran in Stephen Hero, he wonders if Stephen is even capable of love. True to form, Stephen somehow manages to connect a very real servant singing while sharpening knives with a completely abstract "figure of woman as she appears in the liturgy of the church." When push comes to shove, however, he shows he does have a practical side:

    — There's real poetry for you, he said. There's real love. He glanced sideways at Stephen with a strange smile and said:
    — Do you consider that poetry? Or do you know what the words mean?
    — I want to see Rosie first, said Stephen.

[from CD liner notes, contributed by Kevin McDermott]

These additional five pieces mentioned in A Portrait have also been recorded on the recently released CD MORE Music from the Works of James Joyce:

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