Brian Boydell

Quotations

Life
1917-2000 [Brian Patrick Boydell]; b. 17 March; son of a wealthy Irish malter [to Guinness] and Ann [née Collins], an early woman-graduate of TCD; brought up in Howth and later in Shankhill, Co. Dublin; ed. Dragon School, Oxford, and Rugby College (Public School), 1930 - where he played the solo part of Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto; spent summer of 1935 in Heidelberg; heard Wagner’s Ring Cycle and other masterpieces; Choral Scholar, Clare College, Cambridge; grad. Natural Science (1st Class), 1938; returned to Dublin, 1939; grad. TCD, B.Mus., 1942; established the Dowland Consort; fnd-conductor of Dublin Orchestra Players, 1942-67; m. Mary Jones, Professor of Singing at Royal Irish Academy of Music, 1944; lectured at RIAM, 1941; believed in Sibelius’s dictum that national identity in music does not depend on the use of folk-song and engaged in translating European tradition into an Irish context, with Aloys Fleischmann and Frederick May; wrote String Quartet, No. 1 (1947), winner of Radio Éireann Chamber Music Prize; grad. D.Mus., TCD, 1959;

wrote In Memoriam Mahatma Gandhi (1948; Opus 30), an orchestral work - frequently played on RTÉ; also Shielmartin Suite, 1958-59, commissioned by the BBC (Royal Festival Hall, 1960) - his sole specifically-Irish composition; also Violin Concerto (1954), Megalithic Ritual Dances (1956), String Quartet, No. 2 (1957), Symphonic Inscapes (1968), and Masai Mara (1988); prolific output of chamber music, song and mixed ensemble works; ‘international outlook combined with distinctly Irish flavour’; appt. to Chair of Music, TCD, 1962-82; established School of Music; though a pacificist, he was commissioned to write an official cantata in commemoration of 1916, 1966; served as a member of Arts Council, 1961-1983; Hon D.Litt., NUI, 1974; Commendatore Della Republic Italian, 1983; director of Lowland Consort, 1958-1969; elected to Aosdana, 1984; issued A Dublin Musical Calendar, 1700-1760, and Rotunda Music in Eighteenth-century Dublin; articles in Grove’s Dictionary; d. 8 Nov. 2000 [aetat. 83]; his ashes were bur. in Glasnevin Cemetery; survived by May, his sons Cormac and Barra; a son Marnac predeceased him; a Guardian obituary originally by Charles Acton was revised by Richard Pine (17 Nov. 2000). WJM

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Works
Choral
  • A Terrible Beauty Is Born, 1966, 30 mins [Soloists, narrator, choir and orchestra; commissioned by RTÉ for the 1916 Commemoration];
  • Mors et Vita, 1960/61, 23 mins [Soloists, choir and orchestra].
Songs
  • Four Yeats Songs, 1965-68, 11 mins [soprano and orchestra, and in original form for soprano and Irish harp];
  • Five Joyce Songs, 1947, 15 mins [baritone and orchestra or pian
  • Wild Geese, 1940 [baritone and piano].
Prose
  • A Dublin Musical Calendar, 1700-1760 (Dublin: IAP 1988).

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Criticism
Charles Acton, ‘Interview with Brian Boydell’, Éire-Ireland, 5, 4 (Winter 1970), pp.97-111 [incl bib. of works by Yeats, Joyce and Shan F. Bullock which Boydell has scored]. Also Martin Adams, Obit., The Irish Times (9 Nov. 2000, p.3); Gareth Cox, Alex Klein & Michael Taylor, eds., The Life and Music of Brian Boydell (Dublin: IAP 2003), 132pp.

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Commentary
John Haffendon, John Berryman (London: Routledge 1982), remarks that the poems of Berryman were ‘teeming with idiomatic and moral risks and raising fascinating problems of form and quotes ‘Friendless in Clare, except Brian Boydell / a Dubliner with no hair / an expressive tenor speaking voice.’ (“Friendless”; here p.1.) Haffenden narrates that, on meeting the reference, he ‘contacted Professor Boydell [whom he knew from his own student days at Trinity College] and form that point on my eagerness to comprehend the life of John Berryman would never be checked’ (p.1).

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Quotations
 There has been a great deal of talk about what attitude a composer should take to his work - he should write for the masses - he should see, inspiration in his country’s folk-song - he should write in the twelve-tone system [...] I think a great deal of the bad music being written to-day is direct result of composers self-consciously adopting some such philosophical ideal which is contrary to their own true nature - even though they may logically have come to the conclusion that it is a good means of expression [...] A haven for characterless technicians is Nationalism - for as long as the fiddling with folksongs is done with reasonable technical assurance, the result is assured of acclaim on a basis of obvious and superficial local flavour [...] There is nothing intrinsically wrong with nationalisms, or most of the other “isms” and systems; they are merely means of expression. The important thing is that whoever make, use of them, must have something to say [...]
 Nationalíty, political belíefs, and religion are among the influences which form the character, and the style of music he favours should be an indication of his natural inclination.
 For myself, my enthusiasm for music has always tended towards the sophisticated and intellectual, and the expression of the more profound emotions. Music which demands no effort to seek its message, music which lacks subtlety, or which is concerned with regurgitating popular sentimentality holds little interest for me. Thus, among the giants of the past, Bach is my king; and amongst the moderns I have worshipped at the thrones of Sibelius, and Bartók, and owe a great deal to many smaller figures such as Bloch, Prokofiev, Ilindemith and Alban Berg.
 Perhaps it is my misfortune - but l must accept with honesty the fact that I have never managed to work up any real enthusiasm about folksong - though I am aware that many “turns of phrase” in Irish folksong have captivated me, and come from time to time from my musical pores [...] lt would be highly dishonest of me to sit down and emulate Stanford with an “Irish” Symphony. Nevertheless, my music does, I hope, reflect in a less obvious way the profound effect which a country is bound to have on the character of an individual who is aware of his surroundings.

“Viewpoint” [q.d.] RTÉ Sound Archives [Tape 110MD]; quoted in Richard Pine, The Disappointed Bridge: Ireland and the Post-Colonial World (Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2014), p.174.

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Notes
Hobbies: A sports-car enthusiast, he lost his hair by fire in car-related accident in early manhood and in later life he built organs for relaxation.

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