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  • Introduction:"Catholic Church Music in Dublin" by Edward Martyn and "O"
  • Keri Walsh (bio) and Callie Gallo (bio)

The exchange of essays transcribed below (see Figures 1, 2, 3, and 4) was originally published in the Irish Nationalist periodical The Leader in 1900. It dramatizes a heated debate in Dublin about Catholic Church music, one that had significant implications for James Joyce's "The Dead" and also for the aesthetics of the Irish theatrical revival. In reprinting these two key articles from the controversy and unearthing Joyce's connection to them, we hope to show the resonance of this issue in Irish nationalism and in Joyce's attention to female musicians in Dubliners and beyond.1

The first piece is by Edward Martyn (1859-1925), the co-founder of the Irish Literary Theatre in 1899 (with Lady Augusta Gregory and W. B. Yeats). Martyn, a Jesuit-educated Catholic from a wealthy Galway family, funded the first three seasons of the theater company's productions before serving as the first president of Sinn Féin from 1905 to 1908. In the following editorial, Martyn argues for the exclusion of women from Catholic Church music. He claims that women are better suited to the dramatic singing of the theater and that only young boys can express the spiritual heights of liturgical song. The second, an anonymous response to Martyn signed "O," challenges the idea that church singing should be passionless, argues that female voices are as sacred as male voices, and defends the right of women to remain in church choirs.

O's concerns emerge from a larger debate within Irish nationalism in the post-Parnell era. Martyn favored the consolidation of Catholicism and Irish nationalism and resisted what he saw as a Protestant-influenced drift toward secular singing styles in the Catholic Church. By arguing for a return to Gregorian chant, Martyn sought to establish clear lines between Catholic and Protestant musical performance. In 1902, he formed the all-male Palestrina Choir and spent £10,000 to fund the group, which became the Archdiocese of Dublin's Schola Cantorum. The project anticipated reforms to ecclesiastical music by Pope Pius X, who formally institutionalized the exclusion of women from Church choirs in his November 1903 Motu Proprio.2 This move to curtail women's participation in church music jeopardized them financially and culturally because the Church was [End Page 397] an important employer of musicians.

The Pope's recent exclusion of women from church singing is a "sore subject" with Aunt Kate in Joyce's "The Dead," a story that is set two months after the pronouncement in January of 1904 (D 194). Kate is distraught over the injustice of the policy that led to Aunt Julia's dismissal from her role as leading soprano at the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Her niece Mary Jane is also a professional musician and graduate of the Royal Irish Academy of Music who "had the organ in Haddington Road"—in other words, a paid position as the organist at a non-Nationalist Catholic Church, St. Mary's (D 176). Here, Joyce critiques the gender exclusion of nationalist music, showing that only in the context of a pro-English Catholic Church can women find employment. The women discuss the issue early in the story, after Aunt Julia's performance of "Arrayed for the Bridal":

—I often told Julia, said Aunt Kate emphatically, that she was simply thrown away in that choir. But she never would be said by me.

She turned as if to appeal to the good sense of the others against a refractory child while Aunt Julia gazed in front of her, a vague smile of reminiscence playing on her face.

—No, continued Aunt Kate, she wouldn't be said or led by anyone, slaving there in that choir night and day, night and day. Six o'clock on Christmas morning! And all for what?

—Well, isn't it for the honour of God, Aunt Kate? asked Mary Jane, twisting round on the piano-stool and smiling.

Aunt Kate turned fiercely on her niece and said:

—I know all about the honour of God, Mary Jane, but I think it's not at...


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