Into the Twilight: Arnold Bax and Ireland

Into the Twilight: Arnold Bax and Ireland

'And in a moment the Celt within me stood revealed,' wrote the English composer Arnold Bax on reading Yeats in 1902. But what really was Arnold Bax's relationship with Ireland? Is it true that Ireland was incapable of responding to his music? Just over fifty years since this intruiging figure died in Cork, Irish composer Séamas de Barra looks at his life and music, and his infatuation with Ireland...

Arnold Bax’s death in Cork on Saturday October 3, 1953, just over fifty years ago, brought to a close an intense and lasting relationship with Ireland which had begun for the composer just over fifty years before that again. Bax’s involvement with Ireland and with things Irish had a profound influence on his imaginative development, and there can be little doubt that, especially as a young man, his contact with the country satisfied a vital spiritual or emotional need. But Bax’s Ireland was a curious compound in which a little reality was blended with much imagination. For Bax, Ireland was a country whose sympathetic atmosphere seems to have allowed him an emotional expansiveness he found more difficult to sustain consistently elsewhere. It was an enchanted place to which he could flee whenever his life in England seemed too oppressively ordinary. Strong though his responses to Ireland were, however, and necessary though they may have been in firing his creativity, I do not believe that the realities of Irish life were, ultimately, realities for him. Ireland provided a strange and colourful pageant in which he could play his chosen part, leaving both his English self and his responsibilities behind when he crossed the Irish Sea. He played this part with fervour, and he undoubtedly believed in it. His sincerity is not in question. But it was the sincerity of passionate make-believe. Like an actor stepping out of his role, he could shed this Irish self with ease, and ring down the curtain at any time simply by returning home. There is no doubt that in its own terms this make-believe had a powerful imaginative truth of its own. The music he composed is sufficient testimony to that. But while Ireland may indeed have been creatively important for him, it was England that was solidly real, and it was in England that business was done. In his mind the two spheres were kept distinctly apart.

This infatuation with Ireland is intelligible only in the context of the heady fin-de-siècle ambience in which Bax’s youthful imagination was nourished. In the England of the day the latest aesthetic fashions tended to favour anything which was sufficiently exotic as to afford the sharpest contrast with common-place concerns and the humdrum practicalities of everyday life. Theosophy, Eastern Mysticism, French Symbolism and that spiritual Celticism that was so much in vogue in the eighteen-nineties all contributed important strands, while in the not too distant background was the Pre-Raphaelite medievalism of Rossetti and William Morris. There was much talk of neo-paganism and a strong interest in the occult. And, undoubtedly, a large part of the general appeal was that over it all hung a potent, if diffused, atmosphere of sexuality. To this can be added, particularly for a musician, the Wagnerian music drama, the daring novelties of Strauss and, a decade or so later, the lavish splendour of the Russian ballet.

To a young man of Bax’s impressionable temperament, inclined to the more extreme romantic emotions, it was intoxicating, and he himself felt acutely the strain between the allure of this imaginative world and the ordinary demands of his day-to-day existence. Celticism dominated his imagination for a time and led directly to his fascination with Ireland, but he remained equally susceptible to the headlong verbal exuberance of Swinburne, and to Russia and the Ballets Russes. They were different aspects of the same extravagant imaginative constellation, and they all left their mark on his music. 

The Ireland of the Celtic Twilight
W. B. Yeats was, of course, the high priest of this Celticism and Bax duly came under his spell. Nor was he the only musician of the time to do so. Cecil Gray, a younger contemporary of Bax’s, recounts how as a young man he came upon The Wind Among the Reeds by chance while browsing in a bookshop. ‘The very first poem in the volume,’ he says, ‘struck so strong and decisive a chord in me that I was physically shaken by it.’ He could not afford to purchase the volume, and, as he knew he ‘had to have the book or die,’ in desperation he stole it.[1]

The story of Bax’s own early encounter with Yeats, in its way as startling as Gray’s, is told in Farewell, My Youth, a volume of autobiography which he published in 1943. It was from this encounter that he gained a decisive insight into how he might manage the pull between mundane reality and the demands of his imaginative life. In 1902, he says, he read The Wanderings of Usheen, ‘and in a moment the Celt within me stood revealed.’[2] In attempting to explain what he means by this rhetorical phrase he tells us that, in his opinion, the Celt, although he knows more clearly than the men of most races the difference between dreams and reality, deliberately chooses to follow the dream. As there was ‘a tireless hunter of dreams’[3] in his own make-up, he concluded that behind his everyday English exterior there existed an inner Celtic self. His recognition of the true nature of this inner self, he insisted, he owed to Yeats. His was ‘the key that opened the gate of the Celtic wonderland to my wide-eyed youth,’[4] as he put it, and it was shortly after this encounter with Niamh, Usheen, and enchanted islands in the western seas that he visited Ireland for the first time. He himself was in never in any doubt about what it was the country afforded him. If Yeats’ particular brand of Irish Celticism allowed him to bring his hitherto undirected adolescent emotions into some kind of aesthetic focus, and to recognise what he understood as his Celtic self, then the country provided him with a setting. ‘My dream became localised,’[5] he says. The actual circumstances of life in contemporary Ireland hardly impinged on his awareness. If in the conflict between reality and the dream he came to realise that England represented reality, Ireland not only represented the dream but, as a place, gave him a stage on which he could act it out. The landscape provided an appropriate backdrop, the people an appropriate cast, and even the language an appropriately exotic medium for the dialogue. This, I believe, was the reason for Ireland’s overwhelming attraction.

He appears initially to have seen the country through a visionary haze:

I went to Ireland as a boy of nineteen in great spiritual excitement and once there my existence was at first so unrelated to material actualities that I find it difficult to remember it in any clarity. I do not think I saw men and women passing me on the roads as real figures of flesh and blood; I looked through them back to their archetypes, and even Dublin itself seemed peopled by gods and heroic shapes from the past.[6]

He spent much of his time exploring the remote west, and soon discovered Glencolumcille in Co. Donegal, a place which entered deeply into his affections and to which he returned, winter and summer, for some ten years, getting to know the people there as he ‘never knew any other community.’[7]

Daniel Corkery, a long-standing friend of Bax’s later years, wrote of this period in his life that ‘at one stride he seems to have stepped from the non-existing Ireland of the Celtic Twilight into the very real and positive Ireland of the Gaelic people.’[8] This may be true, but what for Corkery was a ‘very real and positive Ireland’ was for Bax scarcely more real, I believe, than the Celtic Twilight itself. It can be difficult at this remove to imagine just how exotic life in the west of Ireland in 1902 must have seemed to a young man of Bax’s background. It was an existence unimaginably remote from the well-to-do suburban milieu of his upbringing. It was a harsh, primitive life with few of the comforts Bax would have been accustomed to. And yet a relatively short journey from modern London could bring him into this strange world of folklore and the fairy faith, into the midst of a people that still seemed half to belong the realms of legend. It was, no doubt, idyllic if you could participate in it without being in any way tied to it, as Bax could. For in many ways Bax’s was a privileged existence. A private income meant he never had to take a paid position, and he was always able to do more or less as he pleased. There were few impediments to the indulgence of his cherished desires and, unlike Cecil Gray, he was certainly never in the extreme position of having to steal a book he wanted. The simple life he lived with the Donegal country people for a few weeks twice a year he lived entirely by choice, not by necessity.

He was no ordinary tourist, however. He describes in Farewell, My Youth how he took his part in digging turf and potatoes, and how he ‘shared almost every incident, whether at work or play, of that secluded old-world life between the mountain wilderness and the western seas.’[9] It seems that he learned the Irish language to a reasonable degree of proficiency, which is in itself remarkable. According to Aloys Fleischmann ‘he knew the language well enough to take down both the words and tunes of folk songs heard in Donegal,’[10] and Lewis Foreman, his biographer, tells how in his later years he carried on a correspondence in Irish with a Dublin friend.[11]

The result of this infatuation with Ireland can be heard in the music he composed during this period. ‘In part at least I rid myself of the sway of Wagner and Strauss,’ he said, ‘and began to write Irishly, using figures and melodies of a definitely Celtic curve,’[12] although he disdained to use actual folk song, doing so only once according to his own account. The Irish influence is reflected in the titles of works like A Connemara Revel of 1904 and An Irish Overture of 1905, both scores now lost,[13] while Cathleen-ni-Hoolihan, also of 1905, and Into the Twilight of 1908 clearly reflect his interest in Yeats. He began, but never finished, an opera on the subject of Deirdre, although one completed section subsequently became the tone-poem Roscatha. Undoubtedly the finest of these early orchestral works, and the only one to be published, is In the Faery Hills of 1909. ‘I got this mood under Mount Brandon with all of W. B.’s magic about me,’ Bax wrote of this work in his characteristically colourful manner, ‘and I know there is no piece of mine quite like it – no credit to me of course because I was possessed by Kerry’s self.’[14] I do not think it is unfair to say, however, that whatever degree of contact Bax may have had with the Gaelic people, this music always belonged to the ‘non-existent Ireland of the Celtic Twilight,’ in Corkery’s phrase. And although Bax the traveller encountered the culture of what, in another phrase of Corkery’s, he referred to as ‘the hidden Ireland’, Bax the composer remained entirely innocent of it.

By far the most curious aspect of Bax’s involvement with Ireland was the crystallisation of his Celtic self into a definite alter ego. He had, as he put it, ‘dabbled in verse-writing from the first’,[15] by which he meant from the beginning of his infatuation with Ireland, and by 1909 he had produced enough verse to fill a small volume, Seafoam and Firelight, which was published under the pseudonym of Dermot O’Byrne. But Dermot O’Byrne was more than just the pseudonym behind which the composer concealed his literary activities. The inner Celtic or Irish self, of whose existence he became so dramatically aware on reading Yeats, demanded its own distinct and tangible expression. ‘By degrees a second personality came to birth within me,’[16] he writes in Farewell, My Youth, and the shape it took was this Dermot O’Byrne, author and, to all appearances, Irishman.

‘Thereafter I led a double life, for when I landed at Dunleary or Rosslare I sloughed off the Englishman as a snake its skin in the spring, and my other existence as a musician.’[17] Many of his friends in Ireland at this time knew him only as Dermot O’Byrne, and had no idea that he was a composer or that he had any association with England. Nor does it appear that he had any desire to enlighten them as to the truth. In England, by the same token, he was careful not to advertise the existence of his Irish persona. ‘Please keep Dermot O’Byrne severely in the background. The musical side of me does not want anything to do with him in public,’[18] he wrote to Philip Heseltine in 1915. It is quite clear that, apart from working on his scores, his Irish life was detached completely from his public career as a composer, and indeed from any other musical activities. These were the concerns of Arnold Bax, not of Dermot O’Byrne, and they belonged solely to his English existence.

There is an interesting precedent in the literary life of the period for this manifestation of a distinct Celtic personality and Bax, I believe, was fully aware of it. For his first important work, A Celtic Song Cycle of 1904, he chose to set poems by the Scottish writer Fiona Macleod, and he produced about a dozen or so other songs to her verses in the years immediately following. Fiona Macleod was, after Yeats, the greatest populariser of Celticism at the end of the nineteenth century, and for a while there was quite a vogue for her writing, which is now virtually unknown. Her work was arguably as much an inspiration for Bax at this period in his life as was the work of Yeats, although he never acknowledges this explicitly. But no such person existed, however. Fiona Macleod was the Celtic alter ego of William Sharp, the Scottish critic, biographer and novelist. Sharp kept up the pretence of her separate existence as his reclusive cousin until his health broke under the strain. Macleod’s identity was meant to be a secret, but of course close friends were in the know and many others guessed correctly, although publicly nothing was said. Among Sharp’s friends was Bax’s uncle, Ernest Belford Bax, a writer on socialist issues and an amateur musician who once set a poem of Sharp’s (not Macleod’s) to music, of which the author appears to have approved.[19] Sharp died in 1905, and although by 1910 when Sharp’s widow published her memoir there was no longer officially any secret, friends may have felt free to talk in the interim. It is certainly not impossible that Bax discussed William Sharp with his uncle, who was a frequent visitor to the Bax house, when he was composing A Celtic Song Cycle or his subsequent settings of Macleod. It is odd however that even though Bax himself met Sharp,[20] he makes no mention of Fiona Macleod whatsoever in Farewell, My Youth, a book in which every other writer he knew, it seems, is named. Apart at all from the influence Macleod had on his early work, both in music and in literature, this is a strange omission as the parallel between her and Dermot O’Byrne is so striking. Of course, Bax was not so foolish as to attempt to establish an absolutely distinct identity for Dermot O’Byrne. It was sufficient for his purposes that London musical circles and Dublin literary circles were unlikely to overlap.

To what degree did Bax owe the idea of Dermot O’Byrne to the example of Fiona Macleod? I suppose it is unlikely we will ever know for certain. Yet there is one curious piece of evidence indicating indebtedness. Bax tried out various versions of his pseudonym from about 1905 before finally deciding on Dermot O’Byrne. There are early poems which were written under the names of ‘Dermod Mac Dermott’ and ‘Diarmid’, for example.[21] In 1910, however, a year after the publication of Seafoam and Firelight, Bax wrote a song entitled A Lullaby the words of which are by one ‘Sheila MacCarthy’, and there seems little doubt that this is yet another, if somewhat more surprising, pseudonym of Bax’s.[22] Perhaps one should be cautious before concluding anything too definite from this single use of a female pseudonym; but it is, I think, suggestive nonetheless.

In 1911, after a strange interlude the previous year in which he found himself in Russia in pursuit of a young Russian girl with whom he had become infatuated, Bax married and took a house in Rathgar, Co. Dublin. His brother, Clifford, who had accompanied him to Ireland on many of his early visits, had been introduced into Dublin literary circles a few years before. Clifford, himself an aspiring poet, was deeply involved in the Theosophical Movement and had eagerly embraced the opportunity of meeting AE. Shortly after Bax and his wife had settled into Bushy Park Road, Clifford came to visit and, as Bax reports, ‘we lost no time in going around the corner to 17 Rathgar Avenue that I might be introduced to the poet.’[23] He subsequently made many other friends and acquaintances in literary Dublin, including Padraic Colum, James Stephens, and Seamus O’Sullivan, while on the fringes of Irish revolutionary politics he met Tomás MacDonagh, the Countess Marcievicz and Pádraig Pearse.

Bax returned to England just before the outbreak of the Great War, and Farewell, My Youth concludes with his departure from Ireland which he was not to revisit for over four years. ‘And with the exception of AE,’ he writes, ‘never again to see one of my Dublin friends in the land of Ireland. The golden age was past!’[24] Wrack and Other Stories was published by The Talbot Press in 1918, and although it is not clear if Bax was in Dublin for the event he was certainly in Ireland the following year. It was on this occasion, it seems, that he finally met Yeats. He remained out of Ireland during the period of the Anglo-Irish War and the Civil War, and when he eventually renewed his regular visits it was no longer as Dermot O’Byrne but as Arnold Bax the composer.

Ireland’s Failure to Respond?
Arnold Bax is a fascinatingly enigmatic personality and his life before the First World War, when he had a foot on either side of the Irish Sea, gives rise to interesting questions about his place in relation to Irish art music in the early twentieth century. One view holds that while he is, of course, an English composer, he might well have become an Irish one had circumstances here been different. That he was in fact virtually an Irish composer for a short period is sometimes suggested, but ‘he could not remain forever in a country where there was little chance of performance or recognition,’[25] as Frederick May put it shortly after his death, with the clear implication that Bax would have stayed in Ireland but for the failure of response to his music.

This is the view that has recently been elaborated by Harry White in The Keeper’s Recital.[26] For White, Bax is the classic example of a composer whose aspirations are defeated not only by Ireland’s indifference to music, but in particular by its preoccupation with literature. The case of Bax and Ireland is the perfect illustration of ‘the lost cause of art music as an independent force in the Irish mind.’[27] Bax as a composer, he contends, at first responded enthusiastically to the themes of the literary revival by composing Yeatsian tone-poems. But as no interest whatsoever was shown in these, he felt that, having decided to stay Ireland, he should perhaps keep quiet about music altogether and try his hand at literature.

It is not that Bax abandoned composition, but rather that he perceived its irrelevance to the programme of cultural animation so brilliantly sponsored by Yeats and his associates. […] Put plainly, the literary revival could (and did) respond to Dermot O’Byrne, but not to Arnold Bax. Although Bax’s music was in theory receptive to the themes of the revival, it could not in turn be received in a cultural climate which relegated music to the unpremeditated recreation of the peasant.[28]

This reading is questionable, to say the very least and, to be fair, White himself appears to have some appreciation of its vulnerability. His music may well have been unknown here, but there is no indication that Bax ever gave any thought to the matter of its reception in Ireland. In his mind, his Irish interests were unrelated to any kind of practical business concerning music. It is surely remarkable that he does not mention a single Irish musician in the pages of his autobiography, nor does he ever appear to have put himself in the position where he might have met any musicians while he was living in Dublin. He may indeed have mixed in circles where, as White quotes him, ‘there was no talk of music whatever.’[29] But surely no far-reaching conclusions about the attitudes to music in Ireland can be drawn from this fact. Such circles exist everywhere. As White’s own book amply demonstrates, literary people are not necessarily interested in music, and Bax chose to associate almost exclusively with literary people. In addition, when one considers that not only had his Dublin acquaintances little or no idea he was a musician, but that he deliberately chose not to talk about this side of his life, then it hardly seems remarkable that his music was unknown.

White stresses the fact that ‘in Dublin Bax’s early achievement went for nothing’, not only because the unfortunate attitude to music in this country precluded its appreciation, but also because his orchestral works could not even be heard ‘for want of a musical infrastructure equal to the score.’[30] It is true, of course, that the state of orchestral music in Dublin meant that there was little possibility of the early tone poems being performed. But to place the emphasis exclusively on orchestral music, as White does, distorts the picture, especially when one remembers that the prospect of having a new orchestral work produced in England, as Bax and his contemporaries well knew, was itself uncertain enough. Of the four ‘Irish’ tone poems mentioned by White in his discussion of Bax two remained unperformed, and a third was heard only once in the composer’s lifetime. There are other kinds of music besides orchestral music, however, and Bax also wrote chamber music, piano music and songs, arranging performances of which entails far fewer difficulties. In this context it is worth noting that Philip Heseltine, who spent 1918 in Ireland, was enterprising enough to give a lecture with musical illustrations on ‘What Music Is’ at the Abbey Theatre. Cecil Gray, his biographer, reports that ‘the famous theatre seems to have been crowded and the audience enthusiastic.’[31] If it was possible for Heseltine, who was unknown in Dublin, to organise such an event and attract an audience, it should surely have been possible for Bax, with all his connections, to organise a recital. Bax himself, it should be remembered, was a fine pianist and, although it seems he did not relish the idea, he was quite prepared to appear in London in promotional concerts of his own music.[32] It is difficult to doubt that, if he had wanted it, he could have made arrangements to introduce his work to the Dublin public. But at this period in his life, Bax never appeared publicly as a musician in Dublin in any capacity at all, or it seems had any desire to do so.

That Dermot O’Byrne emerged as a kind of compensatory reaction on Bax’s part when he realised that his music was unlikely to make headway here is clearly not a tenable theory. Dermot O’Byrne was not the result of Bax’s attempt to accommodate himself to the musical incapacities if the literary revival. He is the form the composer’s minor literary talent took when cast in terms of his self-dramatising infatuation with Ireland. Bax clearly enjoyed the fact that he could maintain a double existence. He delighted in passing himself off as an Irish writer, and his apparently complete indifference to the fact that his music was unknown makes an odd contrast with his delight in his Dublin friends’ approval of his stories. He ‘thrilled with pride,’ as he put it, ‘to be accounted one of those “Who sang to lighten Ireland’s wrong /Ballad and story, rann and song.”’[33] But exactly how he imagined his short stories might have helped to ‘lighten Ireland’s wrong’ is something to which he never seems to have given serious thought. Because, however great an emotional charge it carried for him, none of this was in fact serious. However enthusiastically lyrical he might become, however heated the rhetoric, he was always careful that there should be no inconvenient practical consequences. In ‘A Dublin Ballad – 1916’ Bax writes about the Easter Rising and asks:

Ah! Where were Michael and gold Moll
And Seumas and my drowsy self?
Why did fate blot us from the scroll?
Why were we left upon the shelf

Fooling with trifles in the dark
When the light struck so wild and hard?
Sure our hearts were as good a mark
For Tommies up before the lark
At rifle practice in the yard![34]

The answer is not difficult – they were safe at home in England.

Harry White’s speculation that if Bax had ‘remained in Ireland, his temporary exchange of music for literature might well have become permanent’[35] arises, I believe, out of a misunderstanding of his relation both to Ireland and to literature. Apart from the fact that he did not exchange music for literature at all – ‘this sideline of my invention’,[36] as he called it – I do not believe that Bax ever contemplated in earnest the possibility of settling permanently in Ireland. Although he appears to have been able to suspend reality and attain some peace of mind while here, the dream life could not be sustained indefinitely. Bax knew this and, besides, all his real ties, both personal and professional, were with England. ‘I know I could find something more like peace and happiness if I lived in Ireland than in any other land,’ he wrote to AE somewhat wistfully in 1923, ‘but the exigencies of one’s human relations are inescapable.’[37] And furthermore, as Lewis Foreman justly observes, ‘there can never have been any doubt that his primary allegiance was as a composer.’[38]

Writing of Bax after 1914, White remarks that ‘Ireland would continue to figure in his imaginative landscape, but he had run the course of his existence as a predominantly Irish artist.’[39] From the context one supposes that, when he says ‘Irish artist,’ White is alluding to the sources, literary and musical, of Bax’s inspiration. But was Bax ever ‘a predominantly Irish artist’ even in this sense, and even for a period? I do not think he was. Granted that the writings of Dermot O’Byrne are largely, though not exclusively, Irish in subject matter, the same cannot be said of the music. Fiona Macleod’s Celticism is as important an influence as Yeats’ on the music composed in the first decade of the century. And there were other influences besides these. The year he settled in Dublin, 1911, he was occupied with a full-scale ballet in the Russian style, the direct result of his encounter with the Ballets Russes and, shortly after this, with two major works on Swinburnian themes. Indeed, in the years immediately before he left Ireland he wrote virtually nothing with an explicit Irish connection. White’s scenario of Bax’s early, predominantly Irish aspirations, his subsequent frustration with the country’s neglect of his music, and his ultimate withdrawal is not, I am afraid, consistent with the facts.

In Memoriam
In 1916 Bax composed a work entitled In Memoriam which bore the dedication, or possibly the subtitle, ‘I gcuimhne ar bPádraig mac Piarais’[In memory of Patrick Pearse]. It is with a discussion of this work, the manuscript of which is deposited is University College, Dublin, that Harry White brings his argument about Bax’s relationship with Ireland to a close. Not only was In Memoriam never performed in the composer’s lifetime, but the manuscript is in short score only, and White wonders if Bax left it incomplete because he realised that he had written a work which was not in fact performable at all, either in Ireland or in England. Not in Ireland, on the one hand, because its ‘technique – its very medium of expression – lay beyond the range of cultural reference which it addressed’,[40] nor in England, on the other, simply because it dealt with the 1916 Rebellion.

Is it safe to conclude – he asks – that Bax’s compositional response to the Rising lacked the kind of cultural environment which accommodated his poetry? Can it be that these meditations remained (for the most part) private and uncirculated because they were voiced in a music that was neither wanted nor understood?[41]

In responding to this, one might make the banal, if practical observation that if Bax wished to have the work performed in England, and felt that its political associations might militate against its chances, he could simply have changed the title. Composers do this sort of thing. After all, as White himself points out, he had no compunction about mining the score for material some thirty years later when he composing the music for David Lean’s Oliver Twist. So it is not as though the work and its associations were sacrosanct. Happily, in this case, however, a definite answer can be made to Harry White’s questions.

What White evidently did not know when writing The Keeper’s Recital is that In Memoriam was in fact orchestrated and that Bax’s full score was discovered in 1993. This discovery was made in a music publisher’s basement, a circumstance which in itself clearly indicates that Bax envisaged a performance. But what is particularly interesting is that all reference to Pádraig Pearse has been omitted from this full score.[42] The intense, emotional response to the Easter Rising could, unsurprisingly, yield to simple pragmatism when necessary. That the piece was never actually programmed means very little. As already mentioned, a performance of a new orchestral work was not a foregone conclusion for a composer of Bax’s generation at this time, even in London. Neither of the two Swinburnian pieces mentioned above, for example, was performed professionally until the 1980s, and they were not performed at all in Bax’s lifetime.

Summoning Bax as a witness in the attempt to make a case for ‘the lost cause of art music as an independent force in the Irish mind’ is, in the end, unpersuasive. White alludes to Bax’s commitment to Ireland,[43] but, whatever the nature of his relationship to the country, and it was without question a complex one, I do not think this is either an adequate or an accurate formulation. The only fundamentally genuine commitment Bax had, I believe, was to his own creative imagination, and this realisation illuminates much about the character of a strangely enigmatic man.

Séamas de Barra is a composer and a senior lecturer at the Cork School of Music.

1. Cecil Gray, Musical Chairs, or Between Two Stools, London 1948, p. 88.
2. Arnold Bax, Farewell, My Youth, London 1943, p. 41. 
3. ibid., p. 42.
4. ibid., p. 48.
5. ibid., p. 42.
6. ibid., p. 44.
7. ibid., p. 52.
8. Daniel Corkery, Arnold Bax [a talk given on Radio Éireann in 1943, as a tribute to Bax on this sixtieth birthday], photocopy of MS in the Fleischmann Papers, Archive of University College, Cork. 
9. ibid., p. 56.
10. Aloys Fleischmann, ‘Arnold Bax’, Recorded Sound, 29-30, January- April 1968, p. 275.
11. Lewis Foreman, Bax: A composer and his times, London, 1983, 
p. 308.
12. Bax, op. cit., p. 47.
13. It is not impossible, however, that these are different titles for one and the same work. See Grahame Parlett, A Catalogue of the Works of Sir Arnold Bax, Oxford, 1999, p. 55.
14. quoted in Foreman, op. cit., p. 60.
15. Bax, op. cit., p. 48.
16. ibid., p. 47.
17. ibid., p. 47.
18. quoted in Foreman op. cit., p. 130.
19. see Elizabeth A. Sharp, William Sharp (Fiona Macleod): A Memoir, London, 1910, p. 32.
20. see Foreman, op. cit., p. 31.
21. see Colin Scott-Sutherland, Arnold Bax, London 1973, p. 19.
22. see Graham Parlett op. cit., p. 84: ‘The privately owned typescript of the poem is dated “March 21st 1910”, the day before it was set to music. […] On the MS of the song, “Shiela McCarthy” (thus spelt) has been written over another name that has been erased (perhaps “Dermot O’Byrne”)’.
23. Bax, op. cit., p. 95.
24. ibid., p. 111.
25. Frederick May, ‘The Late Sir Arnold Bax’, The Bell, Vol. XIX, No. 3, February 1954, p. 37.
26. Harry White, The Keeper’s Recital: Music and Cultural History in Ireland, 1770-1970, Cork, 1998.
27. White, op. cit., p. 121.
28. ibid., pp. 121-122.
29. ibid., p. 122, quoting Bax’s ‘Foreword’ in Aloys Fleischmann, Music in Ireland, Cork, 1952.
30. ibid., p. 120.
31. Cecil Gray, Peter Warlock: A Memoir of Philip Heseltine, London, 1934, p. 160.
32. see Foreman, op. cit., p. 196, for example. Bax also made two commercial recordings as a pianist, in his own Viola Sonata (with Lionel Tertis), and in the Violin Sonata No. 1 by Delius (with May Harrison).
33. Bax, op. cit., p. 99.
34. Lewis Foreman (ed.), Dermot O’Byrne: Selected Poems of Arnold Bax, London, 1979, p. 63.
35. White, op. cit., pp. 123-124.
36. Bax, op. cit., p. 99.
37. Lewis Foreman (ed.), Dermot O’Byrne: Selected Poems of Arnold Bax, p. 13.
38. Foreman, Bax: A Composer and his Times, p. 378.
39. White, op. cit., p. 123.
40. ibid.
41. ibid.
42. see Parlett, op. cit., pp. 121-122. In Memoriam was first publicly performed by the BBC Philharmonic under Vernon Handley on 17 June 1998.
43. White, op. cit., p. 119.

Published on 1 March 2004

Séamas de Barra is a composer and Senior Lecturer at the Cork School of Music.

Sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter to receive our latest news, UK newsreviews, articles, jobs and events.

To add a listing see here. For advertising visit this link.