The Dorty Letters of James Joyce

The Crowe Ensemble


Saturday 9 August & Sunday 10 August, 2014

Kings Place Hall One




“When I was writing this piece I happened to be living next door to a famous composer. One afternon, I was playing melodies from the song-­‐cycle on the piano when I heard a crazy commotion in the next room. Somebody was smashing plates and chairs, and singing along to my music in a hideous mocking voice. It was the musical equivalent of a dirty protest. I went round to see what on earth was going on, thinking that I might very well be attacked by some nutter. The famous composer opened the door and told me they had a deadline coming up for a symphony, and that they could hear everything coming from my room: ‘Every note, every cough and every fart’. ‘That’s a shame, as there are quite a lot of farts in this piece’, I said, trying to maintain some semblance of composure”. – Crowe (2014)




A song cycle for tenor, piano and other instruments. This is a work in progress, and will exist in various forms.

Written for Oliver Brignall.


The surviving letters of James Joyce to his wife Nora are absolutely riveting. The rudest of them are pornographic to the point of hilarity, but they also reveal Joyce’s vulnerable side. They are significant documents of the twentieth century’s most notorious novelist and deserve an audience beyond literary scholarship. The letters reveal an emotionally reckless man. Within the space of a few lines, Joyce could scold Nora, beg her forgiveness, admonish her or prostrate himself. He adored her, but fretted constantly that she might have been unfaithful to him. In fact, Nora once stated the Joyce wanted her to be unfaithful, in order to fuel his writing.


A quick rundown of his terms of endearment: “darling”, “mistress”, “faithful”, “whore”, “queen”, “cuntie”, “schoolgirl”, “wriggling little frigger”, “fuckbird”, “strange-­‐eyed Ireland”, “dark-­‐blue, rain-­‐drenched flower”. This list of nicknames illustrates the complex tangle of what Nora meant to Joyce. However, he was not simply unloading his sexual fantasies onto an objectified woman; this was mutual communication. It was Nora who initiated the sexy letter-­‐writing; Joyce even considered Nora’s letters to be more outrageous than his own. Sadly Nora’s letters have not survived, but Joyce gives us a few glimpses of what they contained – referring to them several times: “…it is thrilling to hear that word, write it big…”, “…the part where you say what you will do with your tongue…”.


One of the remarkable things about Joyce’s most explicit letters is that they were not, as might be expected, written at a time of early courtship. Though not married for another twenty years, they already had two children by 1909, so this was hardly the first flash of lust – it was simply how they communicated. Joyce often spoke about the lack of real humanity in literature. There were “exciting”, and “wonderful” characters, but too few who were “complete”. Hamlet, Faust, Dante, Don Quixote: none of these men came close to the full experience of Odysseus. Joyce aimed to expand on this character with his infamous reinterpretation of The Odyssey. Looking at (and listening to) these letters we can appreciate the full measure of James Joyce, perhaps more intimately than Odysseus or his own Leopold Bloom.


For legal reasons, this piece is performed as an educational work, and as such requires the audience to consider themselves to be students for the duration.





The Dorty Letters of James Joyce

Music: Stephen Crowe

Words: James Joyce

Music Director: Genevieve Ellis

Tenor: Oliver Brignall

Crowe Ensemble: Tom Jackson (clarinet/ saxophone), James Taylor (percussion), Genevieve Ellis (piano), Benedict Taylor (viola/grunts)


Stephen Crowe is a composer and director. He studied Fine Art at John Moores University, Liverpool and composition at Goldsmiths, University of London. His work has been performed at Tate Britain, The National Portrait Gallery, Courtauld Institute, Camden Arts Centre and The James Joyce Centre. He also sings heavymetal covers of Barbra Streisand songs.


Genevieve Ellis read Music at Selwyn College, Cambridge and gained a postgraduate diploma in piano accompaniment from the Royal Academy of Music. She trained as a repetiteur at Flanders Opera Studio and English National Opera and made her conducting debut in October 2010 with the Minotaur Music Theatre. She is the Assistant Chorus Master at ENO.


Oliver Brignall is a singer and composer. He is a PhD composer at Brunel University, was a Britten/Pears young artist at Aldeburgh and has been involved with the London Sinfonietta, Sounds-­‐New Festival and Distractfold Ensemble. Recent credits include: Harry La Fanciulla del West (OHP), Ensemble/Spiritu L’Orfeo (Munich Bayerische-­‐Staatsoper), Upcoming performances include Don Remendado Carmen (MWO).


Tom Jackson is a clarinettist and saxophonist based in London, largely dedicated to contemporary classical music and free improvisation. He maintains an extensive and eclectic performance schedule. He is a proud member of Cram Collective (Mumbai and London), Squib Box (London) and One Moment Free Improv (Belgium).


James Taylor grew up playing drums and percussion in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire. He was a member of the Halle Youth and National Youth Wind Orchestras before studying at Nottingham University. Now living in London, he enjoys a wide variety of music making, and music for wellbeing.


Benedict Taylor is a British solo violist and composer specialising in new music and improvisation. He studied viola at the Royal Northern College of Music (2000-­‐2004), under Roger Bigley (Lindsay Quartet), Thomas Riebl, Steve Berry (improvisation), Chris Rowland (chamber music). From 2008-­‐2010, he read ethnomusicology at Goldsmiths, University of London. benedict-­‐