Composers’ disturbing ‘canon’ of work plan


Sir, – The news in Michael Dervan’s column (Arts, December 11th) is very disturbing. It is extremely inadvisable for any organisation, especially a representative body such as the Association of Irish Composers (AIC), to talk of establishing a “canon” of work.

By exercising a prescribed standard of judgment, a canon excludes more than it includes. This should not be the purpose of such an association. As an initiative to create an identity for the spectrum of Irish composition this is so misguided as to beggar belief. Or could it be that the AIC doesn’t understand what it is doing in using the term “canon”?

As there is no existing “canon”, it is difficult to see how the AIC can, in its own words, establish “a new canon of Irish works”. Since the concerts presenting Irish works under this rubric are chamber works, the “new canon” by definition excludes orchestral music. What is the rationale in that?  To speak of making Irish compositions “repertoire standard” is unrealistic. Apart from prioritising specific works (according to the performers’ own preferences) it seems to turn its back on orchestral music.

Admittedly, the opportunities for getting such work performed, either by the RTÉ orchestras or by other groups, are slim, but it should be noted that, in the decade 1979-88, the RTÉ orchestras gave 133 performances of 96 works by 31 Irish composers; in the decade 1989-98 (the latest for which I have information to hand), 134 performances of 101 works by 42 Irish composers. Are these works not to be included in an “Irish canon”?

On what grounds will specific works by Irish composers be included, or excluded? And which Irish composers will not figure at all?

Ireland, and in particular Irish music, has struggled to establish and understand its identity and to articulate its presence on the world stage. This project can only be a retrograde step. – Yours, etc,