Martin O'Leary on Brian Boydell

As part of the upcoming Boydell centenary conference CMC asked composer Martin O’Leary to write about some of his favourite works by Brian Boydell and their impact on him as a composer.

I began undergraduate studies at Trinity College in autumn of 1981, Brian’s final year as Professor of Music there. Although I never studied composition with him, he was an important mentor to me, and later a valued friend.

I remember seeing a record of two of his orchestral works – the Symphonic Inscapes and Megalithic Ritual Dances, which made me aware of him as a living composer, and a living Irish composer.

In Memoriam Mahatma Gandhi impacted on me as a unified, organic and powerful piece which was also very strongly expressive. These qualities remain important in relation to the music I love, and the music I write.

Brian’s music had an immediately identifiable sound world, and this was important in convincing me that Irish composers were just as accomplished as their international counterparts and contemporaries. Another crucial piece was the String Quartet No. 1, which I got to know through the Goasco cassette released as part of European music year in 1985. This masterful contribution to an established genre showed Brian’s command of large scale structure and superb control of a tight motivic argument within a personal harmonic idiom.

These two works were significant in giving me a sense of Irish compositional history and achievement in the twentieth century, and helped me to feel that what I was trying to do had a context and validity – even though the music was little known and under-appreciated.

Masai Mara and the slightly later The maiden and the seven devils also made a strong impact on me. The striking opening of the orchestral piece, with its evocative use of tenor recorder, showed how Brian was able, even in this relatively late work, to bring a fresh perspective and sense of colour to the medium for which he was writing. The language is still unmistakably Brian’s own: he is, to my mind, one of the most important and accomplished Irish composers of the past one hundred years and it was a privilege to know him.