Joe Chester: Lucia - Expansive study of mental illness

Musical exploration of troubled life of Joyce’s daughter is deft and well-considered

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Artist: Joe Chester
Label: Bohemia Records

As part of the centenary celebrations for James Joyce’s Ulysses in 2022, Joseph Chester composed a suite for guitar and strings that focused on Joyce’s daughter Lucia. Over two years, he fell in love with his subject, determined to give her back a voice that had been taken from her.

All the compositions draw from facts of Lucia Joyce’s life, with Chester’s study folding out to a more expansive exploration of mental illness, and although it can often be difficult to grasp the person within the illness, Chester succeeds, mainly because the interplay between strings and guitar is so deft and well-considered.

From the sweep on Northampton, reflecting Joyce’s nearly five decades in institutions, to the optimistic verve of The Little Match Girl and La Princesse Primitive, which reference her creative abilities and successes, the work spins and soars.

Beckett is an elegant, discordant gem, mirroring the discordance of Joyce’s ill-fated relationship with the writer, and Nuvoluccia in her Lightdress dance and flies, capturing a sense of our protagonist, “as clear and unsparing as the lightning” as her father once wrote. There is drama to be found on Candlemas, 1932, and a pure innocence infuses the melody of What’s He Doing Under the Ground, That Idiot? The guitar cascades on A Flower Given to my Daughter, which is a fitting album-closer, for a life that didn’t quite fit the expected mould.

Siobhán Kane

Siobhán Kane is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in culture