The Honourable Tradition of Non-Existence: Issues of Irish identity in the music and writings of Raymond Deane.

Adrian Smith

Document Type Book Chapter

Smith, Adrian. 2011. ‘The Honourable Tradition of Non-Existence: Issues of Irish identity in the music and writings of Raymond Deane,’ in Music and Identity, Mark Fitzgerald, John O’Flynn (eds.) (Ashgate: Forthcoming).


In the past, the question of Irish identity when put to the composer Raymond Deane would perhaps have drawn forth an avowed resistance to the very concept. As a young man Deane developed a firmly atheistic frame of mind combined with a rebellious streak which left little room for latent nationalist sympathies or the pietistic doctrines of the Catholic Church. His subsequent early career reflected these inclinations with Deane firmly aligning himself with the ideals of European modernism and taking up residence in Germany where he found the liberal environment more in keeping with his secularist outlook. Nevertheless the marginalised position of contemporary art music in Irish cultural discourse continued to elicit impassioned writings from the composer decrying the fact that the achievements of Irish composers went frequently unnoticed. Many of his criticisms reflect his own identification with certain conflicts, particularly those which characterise the relationship between the composer of art music and Irish society at large. Indeed as this essay will argue, it is this recurring theme in his writings ‘the marginalisation of Irish composers in society’, which offers the most illuminating path towards gaining a sense of Deane’s own Irish identity. The discussion which follows will therefore focus mainly on those writings where his opinions have been most forcefully articulated. As this theme has continually evolved, it will be necessary to take a chronological approach, charting the circumstances from his youth to more recent times which have prompted modifications of, and reversals from, previously held views. The most significant of these was undoubtedly a revision of his once firmly anti-nationalist stance in relation to Northern Ireland and the wider issue of international conflict, a development which greatly influenced his writings on the reception of Irish art music. His recent writings have also revealed a more sympathetic response towards previous generations of Irish composers. In particular his essay ‘Exploding the Continuum: The Utopia of Unbroken Tradition’ articulates an identification on the part of the composer with historical Irish figures whose experimentation would seem to possess something in common with his own distinctive strategies of formal estrangement. This aspect of his writings raises further questions regarding the notion of ‘tradition’ and casts an alternative perspective on the history of Irish art music.