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Music and the Irish Imagination

Thierry Dubost
Alexandra Slaby

Instrumentalising Irish music

Ireland’s Music Policy

Alexandra Slaby


A study of the discourse on music in Ireland emanating from public and semi-public bodies dealing with culture and from the music world reveals that a polarised conception of music which originated at the end of the 19th century has lasted throughout the 20th century. This essay highlights the key moments of that discourse and looks at efforts made by the Arts Council and the Department of Arts to overcome a narrow and often lingering ideological approach to music.

L’étude du discours sur la musique en Irlande émanant d’institutions gouvernementales ou d’organismes culturels semi-indépendants et du monde musical montre que la conception polarisée de la musique telle qu’elle s’est développée à la fin du XIXe siècle perdure à travers le XXe siècle. Cet article met en évidence les moments clés de ce discours et examine les efforts de l’Arts Council et du ministère des Arts en vue de surmonter une approche étroite et souvent encore idéologique de la musique.

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Extracto del texto

A legacy of the late 19th century, the polarisation of Irish musical life has remained a tangible reality throughout the 20th century, as evidenced by the separatist claims made by some elements of the traditional music sector as late as in 2003.1 Before independence, attempts at fostering a dialogue between the two dominant musical genres orchestrated by the Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM) stumbled upon their contrary demands.2 Consequently, the few Irish classical composers of the Celtic Twilight and beyond3 did not have much success in their own country, even when they tried to bring traditional and classical idioms closer, unlike their counterparts Sibelius, Bartók or Vaughan Williams in their respective countries. Consequently, they took their music elsewhere, to England. In Ireland, because musical and national identity became inextricably linked, this unique polarisation endured. The question is for how long, and whether the cultural policy articulated by the Irish govern...


Alexandra Slaby is an Associate Professor of English at the université de Caen – Basse-Normandie. She researches cultural policy issues in Ireland and cultural discourse in the British Isles. She has published articles on various aspects of Irish cultural life, discourse and policy, and was commissioned to write the chapter on Ireland of a book comparing European cultural policies (La Culture comme politique publique. Essai d’histoire comparée. De 1945 à nos jours, Paris, La Documentation française, 2011). In 2010, she published L’État et la culture en Irlande (Caen, Presses universitaires de Caen) prefaced by Michael D. Higgins. In 2011, she organised an international conference on cultural production and practices in Post-Celtic Tiger Ireland.

© Presses universitaires de Caen, 2013

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