While studying Stuart Gilbert’s analysis of Episode 11: The Sirens, I was pleasantly surprised to discover Joyce’s other love: music. According to Gilbert, Joyce himself was a vocal prodigy of sorts, and if he hadn’t chosen the path of literature, he would have had a promising career in voice. In fact, he came from a family of talented singers. Episode 11 is certainly evidence that Joyce didn’t just abandon his musical gifts. Throughout, you’ll find music everywhere: his specific choice of words, the cadence of his prose, the episode structure, and the plot of the episode.
Joyce’s music lives beyond Ulysses. When he was a young man, he penned a collection of love poems called Chamber Music. According to Gilbert, Chamber Music “has been set to music by all classes of composers over and over again; one of the poems no less than seven times.” Even today, Chamber Music continues to resonate in the music scene. As I attempted to search for recordings of these poems, I stumbled across an NPR story covering a project to put all 36 verses of Chamber Music to, well, music. The result of the project is a two-disc CD set that features the verses put to music by an assortment of independent musicians. You can even listen to clips of this aptly titled compilation – Chamber Music: James Joyce – on Amazon.com. Listen to the full NPR story on All Things Considered via NPR’s website. Just click on Listen Now. If you’d like to peruse the pages of Chamber Music, we do own a copy here at the Main Library.