Retrieving the Real Frederick May

  • Mark Fitzgerald TU Dublin Conservatory of Music and Drama
Keywords: Frederick May, Dublin, Trinity College Dublin, Manuscripts and Archives Research Library in Trinity College Dublin, 20th Century Composition in Ireland, Frederick May's Manuscripts


Although Frederick May (1911–85) is seen as holding an important position in the history of twentieth-century composition in Ireland, writing about May has been sporadic. There exists no serious biographical study to date and most of the commentary on the music has been superficial and frequently misleading. Utilizing the recently re-catalogued collection of May’s manuscripts in the Manuscripts and Archives Research Library in Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and also libraries and public collections in Cork, the United States, London, the Czech Republic and Vienna as well as a number of private archives, this essay attempts to build a clearer picture of Frederick May. It also clarifies May’s position on a number of issues that have been misrepresented or omitted in the literature to date. This essay aims to provide a more reliable basis from which future studies of May’s music and the development of his style can draw.

Author Biography

Mark Fitzgerald, TU Dublin Conservatory of Music and Drama

Mark Fitzgerald is a senior lecturer at TU Dublin Conservatory of Music and Drama, Dublin. Publications include Music and Identity in Ireland and Beyond (co-edited with John O’Flynn, Ashgate, 2014); ‘On Constructing a Sonic Gangbang: System and Subversion in Gerald Barry’s Chevaux-de-frise’ in Gareth Cox and Julian Horton (eds) Irish Musical Studies 11 (Four Courts Press, 2014); ‘Gerald Barry’ (Grove Online Dictionary);The Life and Music of James Wilson (Cork University Press, 2015); an edition of Frederick May’s songs (Book and CD: DIT, 2016); ‘Growth and Consolidation’ in Michael Dervan (ed.) The Invisible Art: A Century of Music in Ireland (New Island, 2016); ‘Faust in the Trenches: Busoni's Doktor Faust’ in Lorraine Byrne Bodley (ed) Music in Goethe's Faust: Goethe's Faust in Music (Boydell Press, 2017); ‘A belated arrival: the delayed acceptance of musical modernity in Irish composition’ (Irish Studies Review, 2018).

How to Cite
Fitzgerald, M. (2019). Retrieving the Real Frederick May. Journal of the Society for Musicology in Ireland, 14, 31-73.