Undertones of the sacred offices
U 7.813 In ferial tone he addressed J.J. O’Molloy.
Commentators have so far either overlooked the term “ferial tone” (Thornton and Gifford) or misunderstood it (Slote).
The toni orationum refer to the accents (i.e. intonations of the voice) used in the different parts of the sacred offices and liturgy. The tonus festivus or festal tone is a monotone with an occasional change of note; the tonus ferialis or ferial tone for ordinary week-day prayers is an uninterrupted monotone (tonus simplex ferialis). In the form of intonation of tonus ferialis alone (without the simplex), however, the tone falls a minor third in the last word of the oration, as in this example:
The ritual books of the church give precise directions on which accents are to be used for the various prayers and offices.1
The occurrence of the phrase in Aeolus comes at a point in the narration when Stephen Dedalus is present in the Evening Telegraph office and the narrative voice is more than once infiltrated by Stephen’s conscience, which as the RHYMES AND REASON section (713.24) shows, is focusing on his own artistic creations. Accordingly, while listening to Taylor’s speech as conveyed by MacHugh, Stephen wonders: “Noble words coming. Look out. Could you try your hand at it yourself?”
Stephen’s familiarity with the offices of the Catholic church and church music makes it seem plausible that he, in expectation of the festal tone of the speech which MacHugh announced as “the finest display of oratory I ever heard”, comments ironically on the professor’s introductory words, still in ferial tone.
There can be little doubt that Joyce valued Taylor’s speech, as he chose that very passage for his one and only recording of text from Ulysses. Joyce’s tone in that recording is anything but ferial.
1 See George Grove, Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1879-90), on "Accents".
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