An Irish-American in Paris: Swan Hennessy (1866–1929)




Hennessy, Paris, Celtic, celticism, impressionism, Ravel, Debussy, Irish


(Edward) Swan Hennessy (1866–1929) was an Irish-American composer resident in Paris from c1903, where he developed a reputation as a ‘Celtic’ composer, drawing mainly on his Irish heritage. Although the majority of his known works (numbering  more than 80) are still in print and occasionally performed, especially by chamber musicians, his life and career have hitherto remained largely unknown. Condensing aspects of the author’s forthcoming life-and-works monograph on the composer, this article is the first academic study to trace Hennessy’s biography and to provide a critical assessment of his music. It draws on genealogical information, archive material in the Hennessy family’s possession and other sources for establishing the composer’s Irish roots, the circumstances of his education, early career and travels in Europe. His network of contacts and influences in France and his reception on the musical scene and in the press are also examined, with extensive use of sources from England, Ireland and Germany as well as France, including reviews of concerts and his published music. While the focus of the article is on the nature of and reasons for Hennessy’s musical celticism, the assessment of his music also encompasses the non-celticist works that reveal an impressionist voice influenced by Debussy and Ravel. The article concludes with a comprehensive catalogue of Hennessy’s compositions.

Author Biography

Axel Klein, Independent

Axel Klein is a Research Associate of the Research Foundation for Music in Ireland and an independent scholar based in Frankfurt am Main, elected as a Corresponding Member of the Society for Musicology in Ireland in 2015. He is the author of Die Musik Irlands im 20. Jahrhundert (Hildesheim, 1996), Irish Classical Recordings. A Discography of Irish Art Music (Westport, CT, 2001) and O’Kelly. An Irish Musical Family in Nineteenth-Century France (Norderstedt, 2014), and co-editor of Irish Musical Studies 7: Irish Music in the Twentieth Century (Dublin, 2003) and The Life and Music of Brian Boydell (Dublin, 2004). He was the advisor on Ireland for the biographical part of Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Kassel: 1996–2008) and an advisory editor for the Encyclopaedia of Music in Ireland (Dublin, 2013).




How to Cite

Klein, A. (2018). An Irish-American in Paris: Swan Hennessy (1866–1929). Journal of the Society for Musicology in Ireland, 13, 47–78.