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Music and the Irish Imagination

Thierry Dubost
Alexandra Slaby

Staging Irish music

Music as an Apolline and a Dionysiac Ritual in the Theatre of Brian Friel

Virginie Roche-Tiengo


This essay explores the ways in which music in the theatre of Brian Friel intertwined Nietzsche’s concepts of the Apolline and the Dionysiac which offer two distinct aesthetic worlds, the world of dream and the world of rapture. It analyses the Dionysiac in Dancing at Lughnasa and the Apolline in Philadelphia, Here I Come! and The Loves of Cass McGuire. It eventually foregrounds through Faith Healer, Wonderful Tennessee and Performances how the mnesic and eschatological value of music becomes for Brian Friel a universal language which transcends the human predicament and sublimates the metaphysical questioning.

Cette étude explore la manière dont la musique dans le théâtre de Brian Friel conjugue les concepts nietzschéens de l’apollinien et du dionysiaque qui s’offrent comme deux mondes esthétiques distincts, celui du rêve et celui de l’ivresse. Elle analyse le concept dionysiaque dans Dancing at Lughnasa puis le concept apollinien dans Philadelphia, Here I Come ! et The Loves of Cass McGuire. Elle analyse enfin à travers Faith Healer, Wonderful Tennessee et Performances comment la valeur eschatologique et mnésique de la musique devient chez Brian Friel un langage universel qui transcende et sublime le questionnement métaphysique.

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Extrait du texte

The theatre of Brian Friel, in a paradoxical Artaudian lineage, is “a Theatre of Cruelty”. In The Theatre and Its Double, Antonin Artaud used “the word ‘Cruelty’ in the sense of an appetite for life, a cosmic rigour and implacable necessity, in the gnostic sense of a living whirlwind that devours the darkness, in the sense of that pain apart from whose intellectual necessity life could not continue”.1 For Artaud, “the true purpose of the theatre is to create Myths, to express life in its immense, universal aspect, and from that life to extract images in which we find pleasure in discovering ourselves”.2 Nietzsche’s concepts of the Apolline and the Dionysiac will help us explore the mesmerising and mythical dimension of Friel’s drama. The theatre of Brian Friel bewitches our senses with music, and makes us wild in the exhilaration of a poetry of the senses that brings us back to the myth of Dionysus, the long-awaited god of spring, the gleeful and suffering god who leads us into a tw...


Virginie Roche-Tiengo currently lectures at the université de Paris XIII in the Law Department. She defended her PhD thesis, L’Unité perdue: poétique du mythe dans l’œuvre du dramaturge irlandais Brian Friel [Lost Unity: The Poetics of Myth in the Theatre of Irish Playwright Brian Friel] at the Sorbonne. She has published articles on Irish drama (Brian Friel, Samuel Beckett and Frank McGuinness). She is currently working on “Pretrial Detention: Principles and Procedures in Common Law and Civil Law Countries (20th and 21st centuries)”.

© Presses universitaires de Caen, 2013

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