Irish Daily Mail
Our history of lost classics
QUESTION For a country with a strong musical heritage, why is Ireland under-represented in the classical canon?
WHILE Ireland is known the world over for its traditional music, few people outside Ireland consider the country in terms of classical music composition or performance. Classical music here remains an elite genre, rather than something with mass appeal.
Unlike larger European countries such as Austria, Britain, France and Germany, Ireland has no big tradition in the classical music field and has rarely produced either composers or performers who are well-known outside the country. Irish composers who have achieved widespread recognition outside Ireland have had to work in Britain or elsewhere to achieve that success.
Two notable examples were Hamilton Harty (1879-1941), from Hillsborough, Co. Down, who moved to London when he was 20 and subsequently enjoyed much musical success there, and Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924), born in Dublin. He, too, spent most of his career in England where he composed 200 works, including seven symphonies.
However, in recent decades, this country has produced a number of outstanding composers who have had careers here in Ireland.
They include Seóirse Bodley, born in 1933; Brian Boydell, born in 1917; and Jerome de Bromhead, born in 1945.
The mostly male lineage of Irish composers has been broken in much more recent times with such female composers as Siobhán Cleary, born in 1970, and Anne Cleare, born in 1983.
But all these Irish composers have found it difficult to get performances and recognition in Ireland. London has a long and extensive orchestral tradition as well as plenty of performance venues. Neither of these factors is at work in Ireland, where the main symphony orchestra is RTÉ’s National Symphony Orchestra, which, for many years, has delivered very high standards of musical performance. The lack of places to perform has also been an inhibiting factor.
In the 1970s, a Government plan to build a state-of-the-art concert hall at Beggars Bush in Dublin, to be named in honour of President John F. Kennedy, fell victim to Government infighting and red tape, and was ultimately cancelled. Instead, the old Great Hall of UCD in Earlsfort Terrace was converted into a concert hall that opened on September 9, 1981. Ever since, the National Concert Hall has been the prime performance venue for classical music in Ireland and over the next few years, it is in line to be greatly enhanced with a development plan costing an estimated €78million, which will bring it up to international standards.
The only rival performance spaces for classical music in Dublin are at Dublin City University.
But if Dublin has been hard put over the years to put on enough performances of classical music, it’s much harder for audiences outside Dublin to enjoy such events, since they depend on infrequent visits by the National Symphony Orchestra.
Classical music has also been way down the list of priorities in the educational system, so children growing up in Ireland are not generally encouraged to enjoy this type of music. Much of the contemporary classical music composed in Ireland over the past 60 years simply does not appeal to mass audiences, so composers find it very difficult to achieve either fame or monetary success. Neither has Ireland produced the contemporary classical composers who have achieved success to match what British composers, such as John Tavener and Karl Jenkins, have done in the course of their careers.
Too often, Irish composers have to depend on teaching music to make a living, rather than earning it from performances.
Overall, the odds are really stacked against classical music composers here in Ireland.
A typical example of a highly talented Irish composer who was completely ignored in her lifetime was Ina Boyle (1889-1967).
She had much of her musical education in England, with the great composer Vaughan Williams. But she returned to Ireland and spent most of her life in Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow, in complete musical oblivion.
She is now regarded as a major Irish composer, having been sidelined for decades. The first CD of the elegy she wrote in 1913 wasn’t made until 2017, on a German label, while her overture for orchestra wasn’t broadcast until BBC Radio 3 put on a performance on October 30, 2018.
With odds like that stacked against Irish classical music composers, and classical music a minority interest in this country, it is somewhat amazing that composers and performers here have managed to make an impression, even if Ireland has far to go to emulate countries such as Germany, with its incredibly strong support for classical music.
QUESTION Before Piers Morgan, what other dramatic TV walkouts have occurred?
FURTHER to the previous answer, during a 2007 episode of the BBC’s pop quiz Never Mind The Buzzcocks, host Simon Amstell insisted on reading out excerpts from the autobiography of Chantelle Houghton to the guest’s husband Preston, lead singer of The Ordinary Boys.
The couple had met on the set of 2006 Celebrity Big Brother and married after a short romance.
‘The Paris Hilton work was a low point for me. It wasn’t what I wanted to be doing, and on top of that it caused me some real problems with my hair,’ read Amstell, as Preston gave him daggers.
‘What? It’s a good... Haven’t you read it? I don’t want to spoil the ending for you!’ the host quipped.
Amstell carried on reading: ‘The photo shoot was for the Daily Mail, which made me feel really posh and upmarket...’ Preston flounced off. Fellow contestant Bill Bailey then walked into the audience and plucked out a man called Ed, who took Preston’s place on the show.
In an interview with NME about the incident, Preston claimed Amstell ‘didn’t write his own jokes’ and called him a ‘snotty little posh boy’. He later admitted this was unfair as Amstell attended a British state school in Essex. Preston and Chantelle divorced three months after.
In 2014, when anchoring ABC’s Nightline in the US, Martin Bashir asked Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis: ‘Do you believe a galactic emperor called Xenu brought his people to Earth 75million years ago and buried them in volcanoes?’
Davis didn’t like this line of questioning, yanked off his microphone and stormed off.
In 2011 on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, Mark Lawson grilled Antipodean actor Russell Crowe over his English accent in the film Robin Hood. When asked whether the ‘Irish’ twang was deliberate, Crowe snapped ‘You’ve got dead ears, mate. You’ve seriously got dead ears if you think that’s an Irish accent’ – and walked out.
Mel Robertson, Telford, Shropshire.
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