Gerald Barry (composer)

Gerald Barry, 2007

Gerald Barry (born 28 April 1952) is an Irish composer.[1]

Life and works

Gerald Barry was born in Clarehill, Clarecastle, County Clare, and was educated at St. Flannan's College, Ennis. He studied music at University College Dublin, at Amsterdam with Peter Schat, at Cologne with Karlheinz Stockhausen and Mauricio Kagel and at Vienna with Friedrich Cerha.[2] He taught at University College Cork from 1982 to 1986. Growing up in rural Clare, he had little exposure to music except through the radio: "The thing that was the lightning flash for me, in terms of Saint Paul on the road to Damascus, would have been an aria from a Handel opera, from Xerxes maybe, that I heard on the radio. I heard this woman singing this, and bang – my head went. And that was how I discovered music."[3]

"Barry's is a world of sharp edges, of precisely defined yet utterly unpredictable musical objects. His music sounds like no one else's in its diamond-like hardness, its humour, and sometimes, its violence."[4] He often conceives of material independently of its instrumental medium, recycling ideas from piece to piece, as in the reworking of Triorchic Blues from a violin to a piano piece to an aria for countertenor in his opera The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit:

It seemed to me unprecedented: the combination of the ferociously objective treatment of the material and the intense passion of the working-out, and both at an extreme of brilliance. And the harmony – that there was harmony at all, and that it was so beautiful and lapidary. It functions, again, irrationally, but powerfully, to build tension and to create structure. It wasn't just repetitive. It builds. And the virtuosity, the display of it, that combination of things seemed, to me, to be new, and a major way forward.[5]
Barry's sketch for the opera The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

His most recent opera, The Importance of Being Earnest, has become a huge success after its world premiere at Los Angeles and European premiere at the Barbican, London.[6][7] A critic comments:

He writes "what he likes" in the way Strindberg does, not trying to characterise his characters, but letting them perform his own specialities, a kind of platform for his own musical specialities. As in Strindberg where you feel every sentence stands for itself and the characters are sort of borrowed for the use of saying them (borrowed to flesh out the text, rather than the other way round), that they've been out for the day. In Gerald's opera the whole apparatus - for that's what it is - takes on a kind of surrealistic shape, like one person's torso on someone else's legs being forced to walk, half the characters in the opera and half the composer.[8]


Opera is what it always was and will be. Nothing is ever in crisis. The only things that are ever in crisis are the people who use the forms. If there’s ever any weakness in anything, it’s the author’s fault. People who speak of the death of things talk rubbish. Everything remains the same. Everything is always the same. Nothing changes. All there are, are different levels of imagination, and that has always been the case. There is no advance imaginatively from Piero della Francesca to Wagner. They are both at the highest level and are therefore both the same. That’s all that matters. Any other considerations are footnotes.

Gerald Barry, Opera Today interview

Selected other works



  1. "Gerald Barry". Contemporary Music Centre, Ireland. Retrieved 2 April 2009.
  2. Axel Klein: Die Musik Irlands im 20. Jahrhundert (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1996), p. 353.
  3. (Interview with Liam Cagney)
  4. Guardian interview with Tom Service, January 2013.
  5. Thomas Adès: Full of Noises, London 2012, p. 147.
  6. Guardian interview with Tom Service, June 2013.
  7. Paul Griffiths: "The Importance of Being Earnest", in: The Times Literary Supplement, May 2012.
  8. Chris Newman, "TIOBE von GB", in: Musik Texte 138, August 2013.
  10. Its dramatical structure is based on Handel's oratorio The Triumph of Time and Truth. See Enrique Juncosa: "Las óperas salvajes de Gerald Barry" in La Vanguardia, 25 December 2013, p. 18.
  11. Chris Newman, "TIOBE von GB", in: Musik Texte 138, August 2013.
  12. Tripes and trillibubs: entrails, the inwards of an animal
  13. Barry explains: Feldmans was a music shop in London in the early 20th century. They sold collections of popular music for playing at home, and some of these were called Feldman’s Sixpenny Editions. Collections like these were among my first feverish encounters with music as a boy. I fell in love with pieces like Martial Steps and The dog barks, the caravan passes on. I entered into them completely, becoming one not only with the music, but with the paper they were printed on, and the advertisements on the back. I pored over these, laying my face on them, waiting for signs of my future.
  14. The Old Deaf One, Debussy's nickname for Beethoven
  15. Inspired by Garcia Lorca's unfinished play of that name.
  16. Receiving critical acclaim in the Irish Times: June 22nd
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