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BOOK REVIEWS Joyce's Chamber Music Myra Teicher Rüssel. James Joyce's 'Chamber Music': The Lost Song Settings. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993. xxiv + 116 pp. $19.95 OF THE MANY musical settings composed for Chamber Music, Joyce liked Geoffrey Molyneaux Palmer's best. Over a period of thirty years or more, beginning in 1909, Palmer created arrangements for 32 of the 36 poems in Joyce's first published literary work. Joyce found Palmer's music to be "elegant" and "distinguished." And, though Joyce actually saw only 10 of the 32 compositions, he unremittingly sought to promote them, even urging his son Georgio in 1934 to use them in an audition in New York City. But mystery has shrouded the Palmer-Joyce association from its beginnings in 1907 up to the present. Oddly, the Palmer-Joyce relationship seems to have progressed in much the same direction as does the suite of romantic airs that comprise Chamber Music itself. From Palmer's early, shy wooing of Joyce (soon after publication of Chamber Music in 1907 Palmer wrote for permission to set the poems to music), to Joyce's flattered response, to Palmer's gradual desertion of their mutual project twenty-five years later, the musician and the poet seem to have recreated the history of Chamber Music's enigmatic and ill-fated lovers. Even Myra Teicher Russel's rediscovery of Palmer's lost song settings —in the library of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale—and her extensive research into the Palmer-Joyce correspondence have not provided a definitive explanation for Palmer's resistance to having the songs published or his failure to disclose his collaboration with Joyce even to his best friend. Rüssel surmises that Palmer was reluctant to own his admiration for Joyce because of the notoriety Joyce accrued as his more controversial works began to be published. Palmer, son of an Anglo-Irish clergyman, had become afflicted with multiple sclerosis as a young man and soon after initiating the correspondence with Joyce moved to Dublin where his two highly respected spinster sisters cared for him. Palmer's association with Joyce would have tainted the image of the sisters, one of whom had founded a "very proper and conservative English-style school for wealthy Irish girls." Whatever the explanation for the long delay in getting Joyce's favorite settings for Chamber Music published, Rüssel makes an excellent case for Palmer's "remarkable achievement." She reminds us that, since his musical taste was unusually refined, Joyce's personal preference for the Palmer songs should carry considerable weight. Russel's assess585 ELT 37:4 1994 ment—and she is a musician in her own right—agrees with Joyce's. She explains that Palmer's settings are especially fine because they follow the structure of Joyce's verses while also capturing the "graceful spirit of each lyric." In order to produce the continuity required in a "suite of songs," as Joyce termed the collection, Palmer uses thematic relationships and rhythmic patterns. Quoting Thomas Campion, Rüssel describes the effect: "words and music lovingly coupled." Yet Palmer has reached a significant level of artistic achievement for himself in these songs. Belonging to the tradition of early twentieth-century British art song, Palmer's compositions display architectural richness and lyricism of melody characterized by innovative touches—dissonant chords and "unusual intervals . . . blended with older techniques of turns and ornamentation." Palmer's interpretations, like the poems themselves, are unexpectedly sophisticated; and they feature an understated elegance that Joyce greatly admired. Rüssel effectively conveys the excellence of Palmer's work in her text; but she does much more. In addition to an appreciative literary foreword by Harry Levin and an equally admiring musical foreword by tenor Robert White (who along with pianist Samuel Sanders has made the cassette recording for this project) she provides her own critique of the poems, one of the most insightful and informative I have read. Noting Arthur Symons early appreciation of Joyce's poems, Rüssel decries William York Tindall's denigration of them. She emphasizes Chamber Music's kinship with the "graceful 'ayres' of the English Renaissance—those delicate, finely crafted songs for solo voice and lute...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 585-587
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
N
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