James Joyce, 1915

James Joyce (1882-1941) is one of Ireland’s most influential and celebrated writers. Chamber Music is a collection of thirty-six love lyrics first published in London in 1907. This was his first collection of poems.


Luciano Berio wrote in 1953 his piece Chamber Music, a setting of three poems from Joyce’s Chamber Music.


Strings in the earth and air

Make music sweet;

Strings by the river where

The willows meet.

There’s music along the river

For love wanders there,

Pale flowers on his mantle,

Dark leaves on his hair.

All softly playing,

With head to the music bent,

And fingers straying

Upon an instrument.


All day I hear the noise of waters

Making moan,

Sad as the sea-bird is when, going

Forth alone,

He hears the winds cry to the water’s


The grey winds, the cold winds are blowing

Where I go.

I hear the noise of many waters

Far below.

All day, all night, I hear them flowing

To and fro.


Winds of May, that dance on the sea,

Dancing a ring-around in glee

From furrow to furrow, while overhead

The foam flies up to be garlanded,

In silvery arches spanning the air,

Saw you my true love anywhere?

Welladay! Welladay!

For the winds of May!

Love is unhappy when love is away!

Luciano Berio, Chamber Music


For Helena van Heel the Dutch composer Max Knigge wrote the wonderful cycle Chamber Music for mezzo-soprano and String Quartet, using the first nine poems in Joyce’s collection Chamber Music.

Max Knigge, Chamber Music


In 2018 the Swedish composer Thomas Jennefelt wrote ‘XXXIV’ for Helena van Heel and the Rietveld Ensemble, on text of Chamber Music.


Sleep now, O sleep now,

O you unquiet heart!

A voice crying ‘Sleep now’

Is heard in my heart.


The voice of the winter

is heard at the door.

O sleep, for the winter

Is crying ‘Sleep no more!’


My kiss will give peace now

And quiet to your heart –

Sleep on in peace now,

O you unquiet heart!

Thomas Jennefelt, XXXIV (Sleep now!) - Helena van Heel