James Joyce, poetry and music
Sir, – Gerard Smyth (An Irishman’s Diary, January 25th) draws attention to the interest shown by composers in James Joyce’s poetry collection Chamber Music. Although many of these composers were better known, Joyce’s personal favourite settings of the time were those of Geoffrey Molyneux Palmer, describing them as “elegant” and “distinguished”. He made strenuous efforts to have them published and performed but the composer was strangely reluctant, possibly unwilling to be publicly associated with the author’s notoriety while his sisters were running a school for refined young ladies in Glenageary.
Correspondence between the two, however, confirms Joyce’s enthusiasm.
The manuscript of Palmer’s settings was lost for many years but was found in the library of the University of Southern Illinois by Myra Teicher Russel in 1982.
Palmer composed settings for 32 of the 36 poems. The first complete performance, working from manuscript, was given by Peter Dickinson for BBC Radio on March 17th, 1988. That recording has survived and has recently been issued on CD by Heritage Records. Palmer’s score has also been edited by Prof Dickinson and published by Good Music in the UK.
Geoffrey Molyneux Palmer, born in England, came to live in Ireland in 1910 and later moved in with his sisters to live in Sandycove, within sight of the iconic James Joyce Tower. His musical compositions included two operas, Sea of Moyle and Diarmuid and Gráinne, and several of his compositions won prizes at the feis ceoil. He suffered from multiple sclerosis from an early age. He died in 1957.
There has only ever been one public performance of Palmer’s settings, in the US in 1982. It is the intention of the Friends of Joyce Tower Society to stage a live performance of Palmer’s as soon as circumstances allow. – Yours, etc,
Friends of Joyce Tower