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Culture & Religion

The Music of James Joyce

“The creator of some of the most iconoclastic and difficult works of 20th-century fiction was surprisingly conservative in his own musical tastes.”

“Joyce liked opera—especially Bellini—and Elizabethan lute songs. ‘He was one of these creative figures who limit their experimentation to their own field,’ says Leon Botstein, who on Wednesday will lead his American Symphony Orchestra in a Carnegie Hall concert that focuses on Joyce’s musical universe. … Joyce’s legacy would continue to be felt throughout 20th-century music. Composers like Boulez, Cage and Berio cited him explicitly; hundreds more set his poems to music. Though one can only speculate what he would have made of any of these, his own demands on music—especially vocal music—were clear: a singable melody and a setting that allowed the rhythm of the language to unfold naturally. Stravinsky, for one, failed that test: ‘Not even a canary could sing that music,’ Joyce once said.”


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