Click to view the track list for CD #2
James Joyce at the Piano in Paris, 1939 James Joyce: Music in the Novels and Poems
CD #2 Song List
Artwork for CD #2 cover

James Joyce Quote
Have we cold feet about the cosmos?
James Joyce Unquote

Click to play music clips

Suite of Stephen's
Piano Improvisations

Loath to Depart / The Agincourt Carol / Greensleeves
Original improvisations by Mr. Ralph Richey

Liner Notes

A Portrait of the Artist / Stephen Hero

There are several passages in the Joyce corpus where Stephen Dedalus (like the real-life Joyce) displays a knowledge of, and fondness for, older English music. In Stephen Hero,

Stephen...retired silently to the piano where he began to strum old airs and hum them to himself until someone said "Do sing us something" and then he left the piano and returned to the horsehair sofa.

In another citation his material is stated more explicitly:

Stephen used to sit down and sing his beautiful songs to the polite, tired, unmusical audience. The songs, to him at least, were really beautiful — the old country songs of England and the elegant songs of the Elizabethans.

Finally, we have actual titles in the scene at the end of Portrait in which Stephen attempts to impress E.C. by singing "a dainty song of the Elizabethans, a sad and sweet loth to depart, the victory chant of Agincourt, the happy air of Greensleeves" to his own piano accompaniment (p. 219). To these might be added the very similar scene described in Poem II of Chamber Music (Track #10); although Joyce has switched the roles of listener and performer, the equivocal description of the music (sedate, slow, gay and dainty, sad, sweet, happy) remains the same, and I think the basis of the poem is likely the same memory, reworked to suit the purposes at hand.

The utter dominance of William Chappell's Popular Music of the Olden Time lasted more than a century and can hardly be overstated. Appearing in the 1850s, its first serious successor did not appear until 1966. Claude Simpson's appreciation in that work is definitive:

Chappell's researches were amazingly thorough, his standard of scholarship exceptional for his day.... His book, for all its erudition, was addressed to a general audience and was intended as much for the pianoforte music-rack as for the library shelf.

It is not surprising, therefore, that almost all the "old ballads and sea chanties" Joyce and his alter ego Stephen are known or reported to have sung can be found in the work; it was the obvious source, and copies were available in Ireland. I therefore posit Chappell's book as the source of the various tunes alluded to, on the grounds of likelihood corroborated by the telling detail that "Greensleeves" is described in Joyce's text as a "happy air"; yet the most common version(s) are in the minor mode. Chappell, however, gives two variants, the second of which is in fact a very merry major-key version. Taking that liberty which we have in Christ Joyces, Mr. Richey has improvised a suite such as Stephen plays in Stephen Hero from the pieces mentioned in Portrait, using for his jumping-off point the melodies harmonized by G.F. Macfarren in Chappell's work.
[CD liner notes by Kevin McDermott]

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