France and Ireland

Notes and Narratives

by Una Hunt (Volume editor) Mary Pierse (Volume editor)
©2015 Edited Collection X, 264 Pages
Series: Reimagining Ireland, Volume 66


The rich association between Ireland and France is embodied in music, art and creative writing from both countries and this collection provides a tantalising selection of these interweaving influences. The book presents a vivid picture of interactions between composers, performers, poets and novelists on each side of the Celtic Sea. Surprises abound, with music unexpectedly linking Ireland and France through George Alexander Osborne and Frédéric Chopin, through Thomas Moore and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, through Irish-inspired French opera and a French-directed Irish orchestra. Words and music meet in a Kate O'Brien novel, a musical interpretation of Verlaine and a selection of Paula Meehan's poetry, while the encounter between wine and music creates new possibilities for artistic and cultural expression. Exploring the works and influence of a wide range of figures including James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Jacques Derrida, J.M. Synge, Hélène Cixous, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Hector Berlioz, Maurice Ravel, Neil Jordan and John Field, the essays collected here uncover a wealth of artistic interconnections between France and Ireland.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Part I: Centre Stage
  • George Alexander Osborne, Paris and the Pluie de Perles
  • The Influence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau on Thomas Moore
  • ‘De la musique avant toute chose’: Poldowski’s Settings of Verlaine’s Poetry
  • Part II: Operatic Engagements
  • Kate O’Brien’s As Music and Splendour: When Words and Music Chime
  • Gilbert Bécaud’s L’Opéra d’Aran (1962) – A Rapprochement
  • Ireland in the Musical Imagination of Third Republic France
  • Part III: Fruitful Encounters
  • Assuaging Loss: Artistic Approaches by Neil Jordan and Françoise Lefèvre
  • Silent Pictures in Mind and Memory: Irish Poets and a Proustian Madeleine?
  • Wine and Music: An Emerging Cultural Relationship
  • France, Ireland and the Jacobite Cause in Richard Murphy’s The Battle of Aughrim
  • ‘Claude de France’: Debussy’s Great War of 1915
  • Part IV: Dublin à la française?
  • Maestro, Magician, Midwife: Jean Martinon in Dublin
  • ‘Play it in the original’: Music, Language and Difference in James Joyce’s ‘Sirens’
  • ‘The music you’re carrying in your head’: Reading Hélène Cixous in the ‘Breath’ of Paula Meehan’s Poetry
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index


The editors are grateful to all who inspired and enabled the orchestration of France and Ireland: Notes and Narratives. Particular thanks are due to the contributors, to our colleagues for their expertise and careful reading, and to the publishers for kind assistance and efficiency. We wish also to acknowledge the generous publication grants from AFIS and from DIT.

Cork & Dublin, April 2015
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This collection of essays presents a beguiling selection of themes and variations, all unfolding through multiple notes and narratives. The notes are musical, literary, historical and sensory; the narratives progress through music, picture, prose, poetry and good wine. The wide variety of topic and treatment delivers unusual nuggets and affords insights and opportunities for enhanced appreciation and understanding of art and life, both French and Irish. A feature of the volume is that reciprocal influences are recognised in contributions to literary accounts, musical composition and performance, to social mores and the psychology of consumption. There is an underlying purpose to the approach: rather than embrace Brunelleschi’s perspectiva artificialis1 with the inherent deficiencies that arise from concentrated focus on a narrow field, these chapters seek to furnish multi-dimensional pictures wherein Cartesian certainty and limits are rejected in favour of expanded horizons and productive linkages. The intention here is to introduce external disciplinary interpretation into topics, and to highlight the effects, thereby revealing how this results in additional layers of understanding, gives meaningful colour and texture, and avoids the limitations of frozen portraiture and fixed-angle viewpoints.

While examples of ‘correspondences’ between the arts were reflected in the titles of nineteenth-century paintings such as ‘Symphony in White No.3’,2 in Théophile Gautier’s 1852 poem ‘Symphonie en blanc majeur’, and ← 1 | 2 → in the musicality of Stéphane Mallarmé’s avant-garde poem L’après-midi d’un faune3 such associations have sometimes been regarded merely as interesting engagements typical of a specific period rather than as intrinsic to any comprehensive understanding of work, time and place. To re-emphasise the riches, and even the essential nature of synaesthetic insights – and particularly where Franco-Irish connections are involved – the chapters of this book feature diverse portraiture of people, places and situations in a live demonstration of the New Historicist dictum that literary and non-literary texts circulate inseparably. As is evident in this volume, words, music and art are never divorced from reality, and the manner of their bonding, intersections and relationships supplies both intriguing inside stories and a key to necessary expansion of interpretative approaches to music, literature and history.

Music, art and creative writing embody vital elements of the rich associations between Ireland and France. Moreover, the links can involve significant interaction and reciprocal influences, either within a single art form, or from one to another. Whether viewed as creative or purely imitative, whether serious or frivolous, almost all furnish insights into the social, political and cultural environment of the time. Some constitute a reaction to contemporary developments; others represent a determined intervention for change. Many cast new light on the circumstances contributing to ephemeral trends or notable events. In the chapters of this book, a variety of cause and effect emerges and the diversity has prompted a grouping of the essays under the headings of ‘Centre Stage’, ‘Operatic Engagements’, ‘Fruitful Encounters’ and ‘Dublin à la française’. Although those divisions may be arbitrary and sometimes interchangeable, they hint at the importance of certain ingredients and participants, both French and Irish, at home and abroad. Their contents can inform, startle and intrigue. ← 2 | 3 →

Centre Stage

Centre stage in Paris is one place where one would not be surprised to encounter the illustrious name of Fréderic Chopin. The son of a Frenchman, Chopin is certainly present in Paris in the 1830s but he is definitely more in the wings and playing second fiddle to Limerick-born George Alexander Osborne. The tale of George Osborne, attractively presented by Una Hunt (in ‘George Alexander Osborne, Paris and the Pluie de Perles’), delivers dramatic proof of changing views, tastes, and interpretations and how they can reflect an age, how they feed into and explain historical events and movements. This is true not just in the field of music composition and performance but is also valid and pertinent in every sphere of human activity. As Osborne may have briefly eclipsed Chopin, so time and reception history has reversed that order. While telling the story of this Irish pianist-composer and his links with William of Orange, Hector Berlioz, Harriet Smithson, Maréchal MacMahon, Charles Hallé, Thomas Moore and so many other luminaries of the artistic world in several countries, Hunt remarks that nineteenth-century musicians sometimes led very exciting lives. It seems an understatement in the case of Osborne whose adventures and achievements would translate well into vivid filmic form – just as some of his compositions might be appropriate as background music for more romantic scenarios. In the informative picture that Hunt paints of ‘the piano’s golden age in Paris’, it is very apparent how national beliefs and prejudices influence presentation and reception, both positively and negatively. If the name of Osborne has not been recognised for many decades, this account must surely redress that situation and will encourage exploration of his Pluie de perles.

Today, the identification of Jean-Jacques Rousseau is most likely to be as a philosopher, a political theorist, an encyclopédiste, and as author of books such as Émile and Du Contrat social [The Social Contract]. However, Rousseau’s early interests were in music and he would go on to devise a system of musical notation, write several operas, and elaborate music theories. Joanne Burns (in ‘The Influence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau on Thomas Moore’) has investigated the influence of Rousseau on Thomas Moore’s ← 3 | 4 → musical views and she traces Moore’s mirroring of Rousseau’s fascination with music and emotion, and the close connection between music and words. The sway of Rousseau romanticism is clearly discernible in Moore’s performance style but the underlying theoretical basis is effectively linked to Rousseau by the presence of his books in Moore’s library, by Moore’s annotations in those volumes and in his prefatory writings. The expressed views of both men coincided with regard to the position of harmony and melody and also on the goals and nature of national music. While Moore believes that music was more powerful than words, that one feels music, he would nonetheless reinforce its potency by extolling its might in his lyrics. In the age of sensibility, this was an attractive proposition. It is perhaps ironic that while both Rousseau and Moore identified the memorative power of national music, Moore could still successfully charm English drawing-rooms by renditions of songs that connected directly to Irish sensibility, Irish woes and the cruelty of ‘the invader’.

They were once very much centre stage but just as George Osborne’s life story and musical achievements faded from view, just as there is scant common recognition of Rousseau as a musical theorist, and as the fashion for the melodies of Thomas Moore has waned, so too the very existence and compositions of Irène Dean Paul (1879–1932), vanished from public memory and from the music radar. Surprisingly, her professional name of Poldowski conceals an unexpected Franco-Irish connection and David Mooney’s research (in ‘“De la musique avant toute chose”: Poldowski’s Settings of Verlaine’s Poetry’) has uncovered her considerable achievement as ‘the most prolific creator of musical settings’ for Paul Verlaine’s poetry, ones for which she earned notable critical acclaim. Drawing parallels between the tempestuous life of the poète maudit and that of Dean Paul, Mooney proposes that her attraction to the French poet was magnetic and predestined. A fusion of the arts – of music, painting and philosophy – is conveyed in Dean Paul’s own essay on Verlaine, and as Mooney points out, she chose Verlaine’s Fêtes galantes collection (wherein poems relate to paintings by Watteau and Fragonard) for many musical settings. Thus, the closely interwoven and circular relationship of words, music and imagery is once more underscored and emphasised. ← 4 | 5 →

Operatic Engagements

Shades of John Millington Synge hover very near to two unusual twentieth-century French operas, Henri Rabaud’s L’Appel de la mer (1924) and Gilbert Bécaud’s L’Opéra d’Aran (1962) and the composers of each work, to greater and lesser extents, were inspired by Synge’s plays, especially by Riders to the Sea. Thus, the musical composition owes its origins to literature and to words. Conversely, Kate O’Brien’s novel As Music and Splendour (1958) addresses music and an operatic world through the prism of literature, starting from Shelley’s lines.4 Both approaches are truly operatic engagements and novel endeavours and they form the subject matter of this section, providing ample proof of the potent mix of note and narrative. In each case, the stories divulge layers of musical history and reveal vacillations in popular taste; in addition, the depictions of operatic and social milieux, of political understanding and public expectation, and of love and loss, weave in and out of France and Ireland. While Eamon Maher notes O’Brien’s significant deployment of music in three novels (in ‘Kate O’Brien’s As Music and Splendour: When Words and Music Chime’), his study here focuses on As Music and Splendour where music is central and its role is thus doubly underlined. Maher’s choice of subtitle ‘When words and music chime’ could not be more apt for the concept, for its treatment and for the specific circumstances of episode and overall bildungsroman. Is this a music novel? If so, Maher has found a myriad of other features entwined and orchestrated: the influence of French nuns in Ireland, contrasting Catholic scruples, the possibility of an artistic career for women, and above all the heady excitement and hard work required for the opera stage. The protagonists, Claire and Rose, are Irish; their path to stardom ← 5 | 6 → must lead through Paris but Ireland is ever-present and celebrations of operatic triumph include those ubiquitous Moore’s Melodies.

Axel Klein’s painstaking pursuit of the origins, subsequent performances and fate of L’Opéra d’Aran (in ‘Gilbert Bécaud’s L’Opéra d’Aran (1962) – A Rapprochement’) has turned up the unexpected story of that opera, one that he rightly views as conjoining the Aran Islands, twentieth-century opera and Irish cultural history viewed through a French prism. Gilbert Bécaud, composer of the opera, was internationally known as a singer/songwriter so that his venture into operatic spheres was in no way predictable. The plot has the atmospheric tinges of Synge’s Aran Islands or possibly of Emily Lawless’s Grania: the story of an island (1892) but no source text has been claimed. Nonetheless, the romantic aura pertaining to Aran was what impelled Bécaud to compose an opera that met with wildly conflicting critical reception, drew new audiences to the opera house, and which ultimately cost him dearly in financial terms. Klein remarks the real emotional power of the work but identifies what probably determined the opera’s commercial and artistic failure: an anachronistic musical style. Despite Bécaud’s endeavours, French enthusiasm and Irish inspiration were ultimately insufficient and L’Opéra d’Aran has been given few performances in the intervening decades.

Definitely owing its theme to Synge’s Riders to the Sea, Henri Rabaud’s L’Appel de la mer is an opera about Ireland, viewed from France, and Laura Watson (in ‘Ireland in the Musical Imagination of Third Republic France’) places its reception in the context of ‘cultural politics of Third Republic France’ with its controversies concerning operatic repertoire and its resistance to modernism. Tracing construction of ‘Ireland’ in the French musical imagination, Watson charts the interlocking concepts and agendas in France as images of Ireland are melded into French social conflict and arguments about the nature of French music. Citing the probable impact of previous Franco-Irish music (settings of Thomas Moore songs by Hector Berlioz, original compositions by Augusta Holmès and Swan Hennessy), and subsequently of the Celtic theme for the Prix de Rome competition in 1903, Watson then sees a changing outlook in France resulting from the Celtic Revival in Ireland and its newspaper coverage in France. At a period when France was relishing the exotic, Ireland, with its language and mythology, seemed to fit into an exotic mould. However, by the time Rabaud’s opera was staged in ← 6 | 7 → 1924, the realistic staging and faithful rendering of Synge’s dialogue were not in keeping with escapism, yet an evolving sympathy and understanding of the new state in Ireland ensured staging at the important location of the Opéra-Comique. Clearly, Third Republic France kept an eye on Ireland.

Fruitful Encounters

In ancient Greece, the word music designated all arts and sciences under the goddess Muses. In this collection, it has seemed logical and productive to follow that distinguished precedent. The stimulation of intermedial and cross-cultural meetings uncovers much that is Muse-related, with the grace, beauty and joyfulness that they enjoin, and with the artistry that in turn encourages further inspiration. In that spirit, this section of the book ranges widely through possible treasures and pleasures, from novel to poem, from painting to wine, from music to memories. In so doing, the chapters move in time between the Battle of Aughrim in 1691 and the present day, and possibly into the future: art travels into the personal spheres of composer, reader, viewer and œnophile, and via fictional characters and vicarious sipping, reaches out to a wide public.


X, 264
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (July)
Music Art Celtic interconnections
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2015. X, 264 pp.

Biographical notes

Una Hunt (Volume editor) Mary Pierse (Volume editor)

Una Hunt is a leading authority on Irish performance-led music research and in 2010 established the first digital archive of historic Irish composers: (www.naic.ie). She is also a concert pianist who has recorded fourteen world-première CDs. She lectures at DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama in Dublin and is currently writing a book on Thomas Moore's Irish Melodies. Mary Pierse is the editor of Irish Feminisms, 1810–1930, Vols I-V (2009) and has published widely on the writings of George Moore. She has taught courses on Victorian literature and feminism at University College Cork and is a board member of the National Centre for Franco-Irish Studies at IT Tallaght.


Title: France and Ireland
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274 pages