Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] O’Flynn, John. “Alex North’s Adapted Score for The Dead (John Huston, 1987).” American Music 36 (Summer 2018): 222-43.

Alex North employs an economical and scholarly approach to his musical settings for John Huston’s 1987 film adaptation of The Dead by James Joyce, mediating the musicality of Joyce’s text with Huston’s cinematic vision. Throughout his celebrated short story, Joyce references music and music making, and the Irish folk ballad The Lass of Aughrim serves as a central narrative device for exploring themes of nostalgia, regret, and homesickness. Consequently, most of the film’s score consists of North’s arrangements of music performed diegetically. In preparation for his work on The Dead, North procured an extensive research library on traditional Irish music and carefully considered which version of the The Lass of Aughrim to include based on what might be perceived as authentic by the characters in the narrative. North’s selection of a “Scottish” variant of the tune has been criticized since the film’s release, but the evidence of his research demonstrates that this selection was correct according to his understanding of the material and not a careless error. In the non-diegetic portions of the score, North orchestrates Irish folk tunes with a nuanced approach to the melancholy of Joyce’s text. Despite being ineligible for an Academy Award due to its “adapted” nature, North’s score to The Dead remains an important work in the presentation of Irish folk music on film, and his version of The Lass of Aughrim has since become the preferred version of the tune in both classical and traditional venues.

Works: Alex North: score to The Dead (230-37)

Sources: Traditional: The Lass of Aughrim (230-37), Silent Oh Moyle (236-37)

Index Classifications: 1900s, Film

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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