On this day…27 November

On 27 November 1924 Joyce made a recording of part of ‘Aeolus.’

On Thursday 27 November 1924 Joyce, accompanied by Sylvia Beach, went to Billancourt to make a recording of John F Taylor’s speech from the ‘Aeolus’ episode of Ulysses. It was the first of only two recordings Joyce ever made.

The recording had been organised by Sylvia Beach who approached Piero Coppola, artistic director of His Master’s Voice in Paris, to ask about it. Coppola agreed to make the recording but said it would have to be paid for in full by Beach, and it wouldn’t have the ‘His Master’s Voice’ label on it or appear in their catalogue.

Joyce chose to read John F Taylor’s speech from the ‘Aeolus’ episode, claiming it was the only passage that could be lifted out of Ulysses, and that being declamatory in style it was therefore suitable for recital. But perhaps it was not his first choice: in the run-up to the recording he wrote to friends saying that he was rehearsing a passage from the ‘Sirens’ episode for the recording. At the time, Joyce was also facing another eye operation but this had to be postponed until 29 November so that he could make the recording.

When they reached the company’s factory in Billancourt, a nervous Joyce was soon put at ease by Coppola who discussed music with him in Italian. During the first attempt to record the piece, Joyce faltered and they had to begin again. The final recording took up one side of a twelve-inch disc and lasts just over four minutes.

Sylvia Beach ordered thirty copies of the record which was not intended for sale. Most of the copies were given to Joyce who gave them away to friends and family, but Beach kept a couple of copies for herself, and admitted that she later sold them at a stiff price when she was hard up.

In her memoirs, Sylvia Beach acknowledged that this recording was rather primitive and not a technical success. However, it remains the only recording Joyce made from Ulysses, and Beach said that of the two recordings Joyce made it was her favourite. ‘I think the Ulysses record is a wonderful performance. I never hear it without being deeply moved,’ she wrote in her memoirs.


Sources & Further Reading:

Beach, Sylvia: Shakespeare and Company, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1980.

Elllmann, Richard: James Joyce – new and revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.