Michael Bowles: Obituary

30 November 1909 - 6 April 1998

This obituary was originally published in New Music News, May 1998.

Comdt Joseph J. Ryan adds a personal appreciation:

It was in the National Concert Hall just some two weeks before his passing that I last met Michael Bowles. There was nothing then in his demeanor to suggest that he was not long for this world. He was his usual comfortable self, happy to discuss matters musical. This is how many will remember Michael. It is precisely such humanity that friends will treasure. Along with his wife, Kathleen, he was a gracious host and together they retained a generosity of spirit through the joys and trials of a varied and nomadic life. They had also seemed to me to be such a good pairing and perhaps following Kathleen's death in 1997, it should not have been a surprise to see Michael depart so soon.

Michael was something of a Renaissance man in an age inimical to such a disparate approach. As a musical polymath he defied categorisation: conductor, administrator, teacher, collector and advocate for traditional music, each was the central focus for a period. His role in the consolidation and development of the Radio Éireann Symphony Orchestra has not been properly recognised and the current celebration marking the orchestra's fiftieth year is surely a case of revisionism gone mad. It may take some time, but history will furnish a more complete account of Bowles's contribution, particularly in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Michael was but an occasional composer. Again, his eclecticism is apparent although he notably warmed to text, both sacred and secular, and had decided opinions on the function of music. In his settings of the Ordinary of the Mass, he was concerned to foster congregational involvement. However it is his secular songs for solo voice that I believe will survive best. They demonstrate a sensitive response and sure technique and they afforded their composer some comfort in his latter years.