Redefining Ireland Musically

Wednesday 21 September 2022, 6:30 – 7:30pm, refreshments until 8:30pm AEST
Prof. Harry White, University College Dublin
After Long Silence: Redefining Ireland Musically

In 2005, the German musicologist Axel Klein argued that ‘whereas virtually every other western country can listen to its own musical past, Ireland – apart from its ethnic traditions – cannot.’ The orthodoxies of Irish cultural history, indeed, have long regarded this status quo with equanimity, partly because an engagement with Irish art music would dissipate the cultural symbolism of traditional music as an ancient art, uncontaminated by the colonial modernity it was intended to usurp. The mere fact that no history of Irish music has appeared since 1905 silently attests this indifference (not to say hostility) to the creative estate of Ireland’s European musical practices and inheritances.

In this lecture, my intention is to obviate the ‘either/or’ impasse (as between traditional music and art music) which has contributed significantly to the (proverbially) global perception of Irish music as traditional music, by proposing a more inclusive model of historiography in relation to Irish musical experience and identity alike. I shall seek to deconstruct the term ‘Irish music’ so as to reinscribe Irishness not as a shibboleth of cultural nationalism, but as an idea that transcends racial identity. In this enterprise, which is partly modelled on the work of the literary historian and critic Declan Kiberd, I shall also propose the artwork as a conceptual paradigm which can now be invoked in relation to traditional music as well as art music. By this means, we can more generously identify how music has defined ideas of Ireland from the early 1700s to the present day.

Harry White is Professor of Music at University College Dublin and a Fellow of the Royal Irish Academy of Music. From 2003-6 he was inaugural President of the Society for Musicology in Ireland, and served thereafter as a council member of the society until May 2021. He is perhaps best known as a cultural historian of music in Ireland, on which subject he has published over eighty papers and book-chapters and three monographs: The Keeper’s Recital, (1998), The Progress of Music in Ireland (2005), and Music and the Irish Literary Imagination (2008). He has also published extensively on music in early eighteenth-century Austria, and on the history of Anglo-American musicology since 1945. He was general editor (with Barra Boydell) of The Encyclopaedia of Music in Ireland  (Dublin, 2013), and his most recent publications include The Musical Discourse of Servitude (Oxford and New York, 2020), The Well-Tempered Festschrift (Vienna, 2020) and Music, Migration and European Culture (Zagreb, 2020), the last of which he edited with Ivano Cavallini and Jolanta Guzy-Pasiak. Professor White was elected to the Royal Irish Academy in 2006, the Academy of Europe in 2015 and the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts in 2018.

Coastlines Gallery, Level 1, Chau Chak Wing Museum, University of Sydney.
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