On this day…25 April

On 25 April 1929 Giorgio Joyce made his debut as a singer.

After finishing his formal education and working briefly in a bank, Giorgio Joyce decided to pursue a career as a singer, and made his professional debut in a public concert on Friday 25 June 1929 when he sang two songs by Handel.

Giorgio Joyce had effectively finished his formal education in Trieste in 1920, before the family moved to Paris. By February 1923 he was working in the Banque Nationale de Crédit on the corner of rue Lafitte and the Grands Boulevards. The hours were from 9am to 8pm and some of the clerks even worked until midnight. Not surprisingly, by June 1923 Giorgio (or George as he now called himself) had changed his mind about a career in banking and was studying music instead.

Encouraged by his parents, George studied at the Schola Cantorum where he took classes in singing, sight-reading and music theory. One of his friends at the Schola was the American organist Arthur Laubenstein who often visited the Joyce apartment. Despite Laubenstein’s lack of interest in Joyce’s work, Joyce engaged him in conversation about literature and philosophy, and even gave him a copy of Ulysses to read. Laubenstein lost the book.

George Joyce had an unstabilised bass voice which seems to have led him to give up his pursuit of a singing career for a while, and by July 1926 he was working in an accountant’s office. However, he continued his training with Georges Cunelli (with whom Lucia also studied) and on 25 April 1929 made his debut in a concert at Cunelli’s Studio Scientifique de la Voix. In a postcard to Harriet Weaver the next day, Joyce claimed that George had not suffered stage fright and had even scowled at the pianist for making a mistake.

(Edgardo Carducci, who also worked as an accompanist and conductor for Georges Cunelli, was a familiar figure at the Joyces’ apartment: for several months he read to Joyce in Italian for two hours a day, and he set one of Joyce’s poems, ‘Alone,’ to music for the Joyce Book.)

Cunelli apparently felt that, with a bit of hard work, George could have made a career as a singer, but George was not so enthusiastic. He had started going out with Helen Kastor Fleischmann, a wealthy American woman, and they married in December 1930. Though her wealth would give him a certain amount of independence, he continued to try to advance his singing career, and sang in the choir at the American Pro-Cathedral in Paris.

When George went to America in the winter of 1934, John McCormack claimed that he had a “magnificent” bass voice and that he could be “another Chaliapin.” George gave some radio concerts for the National Broadcasting Company in which he sang Irish songs and songs by Mozart and Tchaikovsky. Perhaps as a result of the strain, he developed a throat condition and had to be operated on in May 1936. The operation was a success, but one of its consequences was that George’s voice shifted from bass to baritone.


Sources & Further Reading:

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Fargnoli, A Nicholas, & Michael Patrick Gillespie: James Joyce A-Z – An Encyclopedic Guide to his Life and Work, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1995.

Hodgart, Matthew JC, & Ruth Bauerle: Joyce’s Grand Operoar – Opera in Finnegans Wake, Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1997.

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. I, edited by Stuart Gilbert, London: Faber & Faber, 1957; vol. III, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.

Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.