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Arts, Musicology

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Irish Studies Review


The chronic lack of investment in the capital needed to foster the development of music during the period of colonial governance in Ireland and the early years of the Free State, combined with Ireland’s peripheral position in relation to the centres of musical modernism, resulted in composers in Ireland adopting modernist ideas at a very late stage, particularly in comparison with the chronology of Irish literary modernism. Previous literature on the subject of Irish musical modernism has frequently obscured any clear sense of the real extent of this delay through the conflation of the concept of “modernism” with styles that may have been perceived by Irish contemporaries as “modern” at a particular historical juncture. This essay surveys the work of the key figures of twentieth-century Irish composition, examining the degree to which they may or may not have been interested in or engaged by international ideas of modernism. It re-evaluates composers frequently regarded as modernist in the literature such as Frederick May, Brian Boydell and Seán Ó Riada; discusses the important of Seóirse Bodley’s work from the 1960s; and posits the idea of an Irish avant-garde emerging in the 1970s. The essay concludes by noting the continued relevance of modernist ideas for a number of today’s composers.


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