Gerald Barry is one of Ireland’s leading composers. As well as being a member of Aosdána, an organisation set up to honour artists whose work has made an outstanding contribution to the arts in Ireland, he has received widespread acclaim abroad. For many years he was one of the only internationally known and distributed Irish composers. His music has been performed by many Irish and international ensembles including Quatuor Bozzini, the Vanburgh String Quartet, the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, Crash Ensemble, English National Opera, the Ulster Orchestra, the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra, the Birmingham New Music Ensemble, Icebreaker, and Almeida Ensemble. He has also been featured in many major festivals including the Warsaw Autumn, Musik Triennale Köln, Musica Viva, Festival Présences, Huddersfield and St Denis Festivals and the ISCM. In 2000 Ireland’s RTÉ Lyric FM organised a festival of Barry’s music in Dublin. Recordings of Barry’s music have been released by labels including Largo, Black Box, Marco Polo, NMC and Challenge.
Growing up in rural Ireland in the 1950s and 60s, Barry received a patchy early musical education; he even had to study the Leaving Certificate music course by correspondence.In 1969 Barry began a degree at University College Dublin, an experience he did not enjoy. He described the teaching of music there as passionless, but this did not curb his enthusiasm for composition.
After graduation he received funding from the Dutch government and in 1973 he went to Amsterdam, where he studied composition with Peter Schat and organ with Piet Kee. He returned to Ireland and completed a Masters degree at UCD.
In late 1975, having received funding from the German government, he went to Cologne, where he studied briefly with Stockhausen and then with Kagel for a longer period at the Hochschule für Musik. In 1977 Barry received a grant from the Austrian government. It required him to live in Vienna, which he did not do, but the composer Friedrich Cerha helped with the deception (it is unclear whether Barry actually studied with Cerha or not).
Barry returned to Ireland in the early 1980s, and spent 1982 to 1986 working as a lecturer in music at University College Cork. Returning to Ireland must have necessitated a great deal of artistic self-sufficiency, he was leaving behind a city with a vibrant new music scene and coming home to a country where classical composers and ensembles to play their music were few and far between.
Volans and Bracefield have highlighted the importance of Cologne in Barry’s development of his personal style. The city had many composers and a lively concert scene, and they described it as ‘a place in which a young student of composition could easily lose his way’, but this was not a problem for Barry, who had a strong sense of direction as regards his musical interests. He began the construction of a compositional method by picking and choosing from a variety of influences. In generating pitched material he has used chance in ways that are reminiscent of Cage. His use of borrowed material often looks to eighteenth-century sources and attitudes to composition, it also has links to Kagel’s investigation of historical material. While Barry found serialism dogmatic he has used some serial techniques for the generation and treatment of pitched material. He mistrusted minimalism but admired its ‘transparency and clarity of texture.’
Want to improve this description? You can edit it