Elusive Images

May 1936

While music scores have been the central focus of the ‘In Tune’ exhibition, other items such as letters, photographs, and sound recordings have been included to provide context and add variety and colour. Some relevant images were available from our own collections, but others required some detective work.

To mark the 250th anniversary of the Chair of Music (one of the factors which prompted the exhibition), portraits of three former Professors were reproduced as hanging panels. One came from the College collection: the vivid portrait of Brian Boydell by Andrew Festing which hangs on the main stairway to the Senior Common Room. The other two were procured from external sources without much difficulty.  A fine portrait of the first Professor, the Earl of Mornington, survives at Stratfield Saye, the country seat of his descendent the Duke of Wellington. And I happened to notice a portrait of Ebenezer Prout while visiting another college with which he was associated – the Royal Academy of Music in London.

The Library collections include striking photographs of two of the Irish composers featured in the exhibition – Ina Boyle and Brian Boydell – and Gerald Barry supplied a contemplative photograph of himself taken by Betty Freeman. The fourth composer – Frederick May – proved more elusive.

May 1943

Two of May’s most celebrated compositions are included in the exhibition: his String Quartet (1936), and the vocal work ‘Songs from Prison’ (1941). The most readily-available photograph of the composer shows him several decades later, after ill-health had brought his composing career to a premature end. Dr Mark Fitzgerald drew my attention to two earlier newspaper photographs of May: the first published in the Irish Independent on 1 January 1936 to mark his appointment as musical director at the Abbey Theatre, and the second from the Irish Times in 1943. Both were too ‘grainy’ for use in the exhibition, but the Independent image was produced by Lafayette Studios so there was a possibility that a better print might still exist. Unfortunately not, however: enquiries to both Lafayette and the Abbey Theatre brought a similar response – “We had a fire …”

May-Fleischmann 1938Salvation came from an unexpected source. Dr Ita Beausang, while researching Ina Boyle, had acquired a photograph of Boyle together with three fellow composers, taken in West Cork in 1938 by Tilly Fleischmann after a concert of their works conducted by her son Aloys. One of the four was a youthful Frederick May. The photograph exists in an album now owned by Ruth and Maeve Fleischmann, who kindly arranged for a digital copy by Roisin O’Brien to be delivered just on time for the exhibition launch.

In Tune, sponsored by KBC Bank, runs until 1 April 2014.The exhibition is also available online. Full details of the accompanying lecture and concert series are available here.

Roy Stanley

Music Librarian