Ask any Irish person to name three Irish writers and you will get your answers. If you ask the same person to name three Irish composers of contemporary music you will be met with silence. I’ve conducted this experiment on several occasions and quite often people don’t even know what contemporary music is. In the Irish cultural arena, literature and theatre dominate; in music, other genres – rock, traditional and Celtic-hybrid – overshadow contemporary music. In the various channels of cultural reception (radio, newspapers, television, etc.), it simply does not register, with some very few but notable exceptions in radio. All contemporary composers are aware of this state of affairs. Despite significant and eclectic creative activity, which is matched by enthusiastic and innovative performances and curatorship, contemporary Irish music is largely invisible.
In Different Voices (published by Wolke-Verlag, Germany, 2014) I seek to redress this situation, firstly by exploring the history of classical music in Ireland from 1700 to the present in an attempt to understand this national (and thus international) myopia. I investigate the socio-political and cultural conditions under which music developed or declined in Ireland – a protracted period of English colonialism, a deeply censorial and church-dominated Irish state, and the potentially oppressive forces of late-Capitalism – in order to offer some explanation for the present state of affairs. Secondly, I interview twelve contemporary composers ranging in age from 26 to 80 in order to introduce them to a broader audience. How did they become composers? What inspires them? What role does their music play in a largely disinterested Ireland and globalised world?
There is so much to be learned from these voices that we have not yet heard. I believe that these interviews significantly deepen our understanding of contemporary Irish music and those composing it.
I hope that Different Voices creates a space for a genuine encounter with these composers and their music.
Professor of Music
Middlesex University (London)