Yeatsian Music Panel
Yeats and Wagner: Some Prolegomena to a Study in Irish Musico-literary Experience
Yeats’s reinterpretation and appropriation of the Wagnerian (textual and cultural) soundscape(s) and his contribution to the related “controversy in Ireland as to whether Wagner, his theatre at Bayreuth, and the subjects of his music dramas were fit models for an Irish national drama” have not yet been dealt with in specific contributions (either in single articles or in book form). As a consequence of such scholarly scantiness, many crucial preliminary issues in Yeats’s reception of Wagner have been extensively overlooked or totally neglected. I’ll try to sketchily deal with some of these prolegomena in my paper: e.g., Yeats’s reception of Wagner’s writings; Yeats’s experience of Wagner’s music; the main phases of Yeats’s reception (lato sensu) of Wagner; the place in Ireland which could realistically aspire to be or become “the Irish (literary) Bayreuth”; etc.
W. B. Yeats and 20th- and 21st-Century Russian Music
This essay dwells upon the parallels between W.B. Yeats and the Russian composers of the 20th century.
Yeats first became known in Russia in the end of the 19th century. Gradually, his works entered the literary context and subsequently opened a new perspective in the critical studies of early 20thcentury Russian poetry. (Prominent examples include works by the linguist and anthropologist Vyacheslav Ivanov, the poet and translator Grigory Kruzhkov, and so forth.) However, it seems that very little attention has been given so far to the intriguing connection between Yeats and his Russian musical contemporaries.
If we take a closer look at the philosophy and aesthetic principles of some of the Russian composers of the early 20th century, we can notice rather curious similarities with W.B. Yeats (for example, the idea of time and Hermetic symbolism in the philosophy of Yeats and Alexander Skriabin). Thus, this essay focuses mainly on the comparative study of Yeats and two Russian composers – Alexander Scriabin (a true symbolist) and Igor Stravinsky (who mostly belonged to the post-Symbolist era).
The comparative approach allows us to look at the music of Scriabin and Stravinsky through the prism of poetry and vice versa to view Yeats's works through the music of his Russian contemporaries. Moreover, it helps us find out how the poet and the composers could express similar ideas and aesthetic principles using completely different systems - that of music and that of the language.
“The music of many birds”: Jean Sibelius and W. B. Yeats at 150
Anne Karhio (University of Bergen / NUI Galway)
While Ireland has celebrated the 150th anniversary of W. B. Yeats, another small nation state on the opposite side of Northern Europe has similarly commemorated the birth of an internationally renowned artist. Like Yeats’s, his career coincided with the forging of national culture during a strive for independence in the late 19th and early 20th century, his cultural background and allegiances complicated any straightforward narratives of national identity, his engagement with folk tradition and mythology informed some of his best known work, and his production bridged romanticism, symbolism and modernism in a national as well as international context. The composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) in many ways occupies a role similar to Yeats in the national consciousness of his native Finland, yet parallels and connections between the two have received little if any attention, even during the two artists’ sesquicentennial celebrations. Both have, to quote Eero Tarasti, become “objects of national reverence”, and cast a “shadow” on the subsequent cultural life of their home countries (Tarasti, “Jean Sibelius as an Icon of the Finns and Others: An Essay in Postcolonial Analysis”, p. 229). This paper will focus on the appropriation of folk mythology in the respective works of Sibelius and Yeats, or more specifically on their engagement with the Finnish national epic Kalevala, first published in English translation in 1888. Both Sibelius and Yeats drew on natural imagery and folk tradition in their art, and were absorbed in that morphing of the phenomenal into the eternal and mythological that Yeats examined in “The Celtic Element in Literature”. As an example of this dynamic, the latter part of this presentation will focus on the literal and figurative imagery of the swan in Sibelius’s music and Yeats’s writing.