Bloom's Old Sweet Song: Essays on Joyce and Music

Bloom's Old Sweet Song: Essays on Joyce and Music

Bloom's Old Sweet Song: Essays on Joyce and Music

Bloom's Old Sweet Song: Essays on Joyce and Music

Synopsis

James Joyce used music and musical allusion in ways that no other writer has attempted. Ulysses alone contains more than 800 song references, many as dependent upon music as lyrics. In these retrospective essays, Zack Bowen, the leading expert on Joyce and music, describes this bond between music and Joyce's fiction, explaining how musical allusions inform both individual passages and the theme or structure of entire works.

Excerpt

Some people seem destined from childhood to become athletes, or warriors, or religious leaders, but, since I clearly have few of the requisite talents and even fewer inclinations for these pursuits, I think I must have been destined to explicate musical allusions in the works of James Joyce. I don't see how I could have avoided it. During World War II, when I was a schoolboy, my mother, a professional soprano, incessantly practiced her perennial concert favorites at home while I was doing my homework, and in the rehearsal process subliminally burned their lyrics and tunes into my cerebral cortex, leaving scars of memory that would never heal. This hyperbole is meant to suggest that I never wanted all those piano, voice, organ, composition, and dancing lessons my mother made me take throughout my school years. Until I was fifteen, I did not even know I liked music, so accustomed was I to rebel against it. When parental hopes for a child prodigy flickered ever more faintly into an acceptance of my adult musical mediocrity and the pressure to take lessons eased, I emerged into a musical world I was no longer compelled to resist, and one that, in spite of myself, I actually knew something about. When I began to read Joyce's works, the familiar chords and phrases emerging from the fiction had resonance in my experience because they were a part of the recital music my mother endlessly practiced at home. I found myself continually supplying the tunes for the lyrics embedded in Joyce's texts, particularly of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. My mother died in 1960, between my M.A. and Ph.D studies, and left me a legacy of sheet music . . .

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