Music and Identity in Ireland and Beyond ed. by Mark Fitzgerald and John O'Flynn (review)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by
Music and Identity in Ireland and Beyond. Ed. by Mark Fitzgerald John O'Flynn. pp. xiii + 325. (Ashgate, Farnham and Burlington, Vt., 2014. £70. ISBN 978-1-4724-0966-9.)

Recent decades have seen a significant growth in publications on Irish music and musical life, in no small part due to initiatives by Harry White and other contributors to this volume, which amply attests to the current vitality of the Irish musicological scene. In an Irish context, it is a pioneering ventureça broad-ranging collection of essays surveying the role played by music and discourse about music in constructing Irish identities from the eighteenth century to the present day, within the island of Ireland itself and across the Irish diaspora. The volume's scope extends beyond classical music and folk music to encompass various genres of popular music and the musics of immigrant communities. The sixteen essays are grouped under three headings. Those in Part I examine a range of historical figures and contexts that illuminate key issues pertaining to Irish musical identity; Part II explores these questions in regard to recent Irish musical production; and Part III is concerned with the relationship between Irish music, in the most inclusive understanding of the term, and 'broader conceptions of society, nation state, and intercultural/transcultural groupings' (p. 14).

For the most part, the contributions consist of case studies of individual musicians or the musical practices of various social constituencies. As is often the case with collections of this nature, the contributions are of variable quality, but the best are of genuine interest. The editors are to be particularly commended for including some excellent work by younger scholars: Ruth Stanley's account of music broadcasting on BBC Northern Ireland and Fabian Huss's chapter on Bax and Moeran's preoccupation with Irish subject matter stand out as being especially accomplished. Some of the most stimulating essays broach new avenues of exploration, such as Eileen Hogan's discussion of the place of music within Irish youth culture, or propose revisionist reassessments: Mark Fitzgerald's critique of writings on the composer Frederick May (1911^85) usefully clears away longstanding misconceptions about his career and creative achievement. Harry White's thought-provoking concluding chapter explores a topic of especial importanceçthe stubbornly enduring perception that folk music is 'authentically' Irish in a way that other national musical traditions are not. Such a narrowly exclusivist view of what constitutes 'Irish' music has had regrettable consequences and is long overdue for dispassionate critical scrutiny. This theme deserves treatment at much greater length, and one hopes that White's essay will stimulate the level of discussion and debate within the Irish musicological community that its significance merits.

Any exploration of Irish identity in relation to music forces one to confront complex and unsettling questions, not least on account of the country's troubled history of colonial occupation and intercommunity conflict. While there is naturally no expectation that a volume of this nature would offer a comprehensive treatment of these matters, it is surprising to find that the Introduction skirts discussion of them more or less entirely. It is disappointing in other respects, too: it does not provide an overview of scholarship on Irish music pertinent to the volume's central theme, neither does it attempt to contextualize Irish music studies in relation to other domains of Irish cultural and historical studies, nor consider how key issues concerning music and Irish identity might have resonance for musicologists working on other repertories. In consequence, it is not very helpful to readers new to the field, which is a pity, since Irish music raises issues that are potentially of wider general relevance and interest, and in a particularly acute form.

The lingering sensitivities about the respective standing and perceived importance of art music and folk music in Irish cultural life have complicated origins. After the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922, folk music [End Page 680] acquired heightened importance as a perceived remnant of an indigenous Gaelic culture that had been all but destroyed under British occupation: after the dramatic decline of the Irish language, it came to be one of the chief markers...