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Sirens

The eleventh episode in Ulysses is James Joyce’s verbal equivalent of musical counterpoint. He has called this episode a “fuga per canonem,” assigning to each character the role of a musical line. Actual music is quoted and sung by the denizens of a bar in the Ormond Hotel as they gather around the piano. Two barmaids flirt with the men echoing Ulysses temptation by the sirens in Homer’s epic. I have used the melodies of the songs mentioned by Joyce and assigned them to the characters who sing them, varying them as the situation dictates. Leopold Bloom, the hero of Ulysses, enters the bar to get a bite to eat and to listen to the singing from the safe distance of the adjoining room. Blazes Boylan, his rival for the affections of his wife is there and Bloom anguishes over the love-tryst that is about to occur. Shame, jealousy, frustration and alienation consume him, and the words of the songs he hears the men singing echo his anguish over his wife’s infidelity as well as a clandestine correspondence he is carrying on with a woman named Martha. Joyce refers to Martha by Flotow as well as the popular songs: Those Seaside Girls, Love’s Old Sweet Song, The Bloom is on the Rye, O Dolores, Queen of the Eastern Sea from Floradora, and The Rose of Castille. Using rhythm and cadence, Joyce transforms the words into musical phrases. I have set each section as a contrapuntal form, including canon, invention, fugue and episodes connecting them. I am grateful to William Anderson and the Roger Shapiro Fund for New Music for commissioning Sirens.

Posted: Apr-26-2017
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