James Joyce’s Piano

IMG_0551Here’s a photo I took yesterday of James Joyce’s piano, during my visit to the Dublin Writers Museum. The museum is in a lovely 18th-centry town house and I loved the exhibits – the paintings, manuscripts, letters, rare editions and mementos and artifacts. Joyce’s piano sits upstairs in the sumptuous Gallery of Writers.

From Sun Phone Records –

“It is an aspect of his complex life that is most evident, ironically enough, in his writing, in which scholars have cataloged literally thousands of musical allusions — to singers, composers, instruments, musical venues and, of course, songs of various stripes — many of them integral to the understanding of his poems, stories, and novels. His books are saturated with the deep knowledge and affection for music with which he grew up and which stayed with him all his life.”

Sylvia Beach wrote –

“He would seat himself at the piano, drooping over the keys, and the old songs, his particular way of singing them in his sweet tenor voice, and the expression his face — these were things one can never forget.”

For further study
James Joyce the … Musician?
Selected Songs from the Works of James Joyce
James Joyce as a Tenor
James Joyce’s Only Known Composition
James Joyce Music
James Joyce and Avant-Garde Music


James Joyce and the Dublin Writers Museum

IMG_0484This wonderful statue is in the Merrion Hotel gardens — James Joyce, Ireland’s most famous literary export. There’s not a city of comparable size anywhere in the world that compares to literary Dublin — Nobel Prize winners and writers writing in every conceivable genre. I loved reading Joyce in high school and college and have continued to read his incredible writing and reconnect with his poems and prose, in deeper ways. His beautiful love poems (reflecting his interest in music) especially appeal but re-reading his nuanced and ironic stories in Dubliners — having now lived in Ireland twice and having been in Dublin dozens of times over the last decade and a half — is a lovely and better, more personal experience now.

Today, for the first time, I went to the Dublin Writers Museum, just around the corner on Parnell Square. What a lovely place — a compendium of the literary heritage by writers from the past. I learned about many historical Irish women writers about whom I’d previously known very little. It was wonderful to trace the roots of Irish poetry and storytelling — and learn more about the emergence of Jonathan Swift, William Congreve, Oliver Goldsmith and John D. Sheridan — all Irish writers with international status. I loved seeing the first edition of Bram Stocker’s Dracula (a favorite since childhood) — embodying the ‘Irish imagination at its darkest’ and reconnecting with the wit of Oscar Wilde and the brilliance of George Bernard Shaw. There were fabulous artifacts from 20th-century Irish Literary Revival giants — W.B. Yeats, J.M. Synge (both of whom I adore — Yeats for his exquisite poetry and Synge for his lovely connection to the Blasket Islands), James Joyce, and Sean O’Casey and his nemesis, Oliver St. John Gogarty.

IMG_0573Great information on Sean O’Faolain (I am just reading an incredible memoir,  Trespassers, by his daughter — journalist Julia O’Faolain), Frank O’Connor (who I got to meet in 2006, a wondrous encounter) and Kate O’Brien — all banned and censored in their time. Interesting artifacts from Patrick Kavanagh, Brian O’Nolan, Brendan Beehan, and Samuel Beckett. Upstairs, I got to see the Gallery of Writers, James Joyce’s piano, and the Gorham Library — so fabulous. I also want to visit the Irish Writers’ Center next door (the Dublin Writer’s Festival is on, now), promoting the work of contemporary Irish writers. And, I hope to also visit Marsh’s Library — Dublin’s oldest working library, an 18th-century classic that is supposed to be packed with ancient books and manuscripts, including some of the world’s rarest.

I’m really excited to see my students’ reaction to and engagement with the Trinity College Library, the gorgeous Long Room in the Old Library and the Book of Kells. I’ve visited the library, the long room and the Book of Kells exhibit dozens of times, and every time I learn something new and have a beautiful experience.