This book is the first study of the Irish composer James Wilson (1922–2005). A founding member of Aosdána, in the 1950s and 60s Wilson was a key figure in the Music Association of Ireland and played an important role in developing the structures that support composers and musicians in Ireland today. As teacher of composition at the Royal Irish Academy of Music and the Ennis (later AIC) Composition Summer School he had an important influence on later generations of composers, his pupils including composers such as Roger Doyle and John Buckley.
The first part of the book is a detailed biographical study of Wilson, from his birth and education in London, through his wartime experiences in the Arctic to his decision to relocate to Ireland and become a fulltime composer. It throws light on the problems composers faced in Ireland in the period 1950–2000 caused by the lack of musical infrastructures, the difficulties in obtaining performances of pieces, the variable standards of performance and criticism and the near impossibility of getting either works published or recorded. Important collaborations in Ireland and abroad are highlighted and throughout the book individual compositions are discussed to demonstrate the development of Wilson's style. The book also raises questions about the contribution of composers to Ireland's cultural heritage and how we can ensure it is not forgotten in the future.
His work is situated in the wider context of contemporary developments in music in Ireland and the rest of Europe.