Mercoledi Musicale

In other times perhaps today would be spent wandering the streets of Dublin and stopping in at Davy Byrnes for a Gorgonzola sandwich with a few Italian olives and a glass of good Burgundy. However, given the restrictions that is not going to happen; so I thought I’d do a brief wander through some of the music that Joyce mentions in Ulysses.

Dedicated on Bloomsday 1990 this statute of Joyce was quickly nicknamed “The Prick with the Stick” by Dubliners.

It has been speculated that had he not been a writer Joyce would have been a singer. At one point he appeared on the stage with John McCormack, the famous Irish tenor. Joyce grew up in a household where music was sung, played and loved and his own knowledge of music was encyclopedic. And music was to be an integral trope in his poems, short stories and novels. From “The Lass of Aughrim” in The Dead (my personal favourite Joyce story) to the thousand or more references in Finnegan’s Wake music offers a counterpoint, and often the door to a hidden emotion in Joyce’s writing.

Since today is Bloomsday I thought I’d pick three of the pieces that Leo Bloom either hears or thinks of in his odyssey through the streets of Dublin. As I am still struggling to get through Ulysses forty years after I first picked it up I rely on the liner notes that Prof Zach Bowen wrote for the CD Music from the Works of James Joyce.

Love’s Old Sweet Song

This is one of the most frequently referred to and significant musical allusions throughout Ulysses. Molly Bloom will be singing this song on her concert tour with Blazes Boylan and, indeed, the afternoon liaison between her and Blazes is ostensibly for the purpose of rehearsing the music for that concert, including this song. Bloom learns that the song will be included in the concert tour early in the morning, and it serves throughout his day and the novel Ulysses both as a leitmotif of Molly’s adultery and as the theme song of her potential reconciliation with Bloom.
[Prof Zach Bowen]

As I mentioned the great Irish tenor John McCormack was an acquaintance of Joyce. He recorded this 78 in October 1927 with Edwin Schenider at the piano. This popular Victorian parlour song was composed by James Lyman Molloy in 1884 to lyrics by C. Clifton Bingham.

Those Lovely Seaside Girls


This cheerful ditty is perhaps the most frequently mentioned song in Ulysses. Milly’s morning letter to Bloom erroneously refers to the song as having been written by Blazes Boylan, and Bloom associates the song with Boylan throughout much of the rest of the book. It becomes the motif of the universal temptress figures leading all men to their eventual destruction. Most of the subsequent references to the song in Ulysses are made by Bloom, who of course is never far from female temptation.
[Prof Zach Bowen]

This is a track from the afore mentioned Music from the Works of James Joyce recorded in 2004 by Kevin McDermott with Ralph Richey at the piano. A second volume was issued in 2006. Both CDs are on the Sunphone label. The song was written by Harry B. Morris in 1899 and originally sung by one of the bright lights of the music hall: Vesta Tilley, the male impersonator. By the way the “clocks” referred to are the images of a clock that often adorned the ankle of ladies stockings at the time. It was quite daring for a lady to flash them.

M’appari (Ach so fromme)

… from the Flotow opera Martha. In the Sirens episode of Ulysses, Bloom hears the song sung by Simon Dedalus in the Ormond Bar just as Bloom is at the low point of his day, the hour of Molly’s assignation with Boylan. Bloom is in the process of writing a letter to Martha Clifford and, as Simon sings the words, each line is compared to an event in Bloom and Molly’s history through Bloom’s stream of conscious thought. Bloom then notes the coincidence between the song title and the name of his pen pal, Martha Clifford, which effectively means that all of Bloom’s love life is somehow tied up with the words and music sung by his curious counterpart in fatherhood, Simon Dedalus.
[Prof Zach Bowen]

Better known by its Italian title the original lyrics for this lovely opera – too seldom performed today – were in German. I have chosen a version by the much lamented Fritz Wunderlich. On the verge of his international career Wunderlich fell down a flight of stairs at his vacation home and died from head injuries. He was 36 years old.

The word for June 16th is:
Trope /trōp/: [1. noun 2. verb]
1. A figurative or metaphorical use of a word or expression.
2. To create a trope.
Mid 16th century: via Latin from Greek tropos ‘turn, way, trope’, from trepein ‘to turn’.
I may well be using the word incorrectly but it seems to me that Joyce uses music exactly that way.

Author: Willym

A senior with the heart of a young'un

One thought on “Mercoledi Musicale”

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