Boydell, Brian Patrick (1917–2000), composer and musicologist, was born 17 March 1917 in Dublin, son (with two younger sisters) of James Boydell, maltster, and Eileen Boydell (née Collins), both of Dublin. His family was originally from Leigh, Lancashire, and his grandfather James Boydell moved to Ireland in the late 1860s, where he married Mary Hurst. Boydell was educated at Monkstown Park School, Dublin (1925–7), Dragon School, Oxford (1927–30), and Rugby School (1930–35). In 1935 he spent six months in Heidelberg (studying organ with Meinhard Poppen at the Evangelisches Kirchenmusikalisches Institut) before entering Clare College, Cambridge, where he graduated with a first-class degree in natural sciences in 1938. In the same year he began studies in composition at the Royal College of Music in London with Patrick Hadley and Herbert Howells and took voice and piano lessons privately before returning to Ireland at the outbreak of the second world war. He began working for the family malting business in Dublin and during the war opened a commercial company (Norman, Boydell, & Kerwood Ltd) to power cars with charcoal. He also continued his composition studies with John Larchet (qv) at the Royal Irish Academy of Music (1940–42), where he subsequently taught singing from 1944 to 1952. He took the Mus.B. (1942) and Mus.D. (1959) at TCD, where he held the chair of music (1962–82) and became a fellow of the college in 1972. Boydell directed the Dublin Orchestral Players (1942–67) and the Dowland Consort (1958–69) and was active nationally and internationally as an adjudicator and as a broadcaster with Radio Éireann, presenting over 1,000 programmes. He was a founder member of the Music Association of Ireland and served on the Arts Council of Ireland (1961–83). A member of Aosdána, he was awarded an honorary D.Mus. from the NUI (1974), the Commendatore della Repubblica Italiana (1983), and an honorary fellowship of the Royal Irish Academy of Music (1990).
Boydell was one of the most important Irish composers of the twentieth century, with a significant output in most genres. His major orchestral works include ‘In memoriam Mahatma Gandhi’, op. 30 (composed 1948); Violin concerto, op. 36 (1953–4); ‘Megalithic ritual dances’, op. 39 (1956); and ‘Masai Mara’, op. 87 (1988). ‘A terrible beauty is born’, op. 59 (1965), a setting of texts by W. B. Yeats (qv), Francis Ledwidge (qv), Thomas MacDonagh (qv), A. E. Sigerson, and Tom Kettle (qv) for speaker, soloists, choir, and orchestra, was commissioned by the state to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the 1916 rising. The three string quartets of 1949, 1957, and 1969 are considered by many to be his most notable achievements. His vocal pieces, some written for his wife Mary, include settings of texts by W. B. Yeats, James Joyce (qv), and Robert Herrick, and he wrote incidental music for plays and films by Frank Carney, Padraic Fallon (qv), Vincent Corcoran, Patrick Carey (qv), Conor Cruise O'Brien, and August Strindberg. In 1961 he was commissioned by Radio Éireann to arrange the Irish national anthem for the opening of the television service, and this was played at the close of RTÉ television broadcasts for three decades.
His main area of musicological research was eighteenth-century Dublin, and he authored two books, A Dublin musical calendar 1700–1760 (1988) and Rotunda music in eighteenth-century Dublin (1992). He also edited Four centuries of music in Ireland (1979) for the BBC, and contributed to many journals and books including The Bell, Envoy, and Dublin Historical Record; T. W. Moody and W. E. Vaughan (ed.), A new history of Ireland, iv (1986); Gerard Gillen and Harry White (ed.), Musicology in Ireland: Irish Musical Studies I (1990); and various editions of The new Grove dictionary of music and musicians and Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart.
His non-musical interests included fishing, photography, and gardening, and in the early 1940s he was a keen amateur artist, studying painting with Mainie Jellett (qv) and as an active member of the White Stag Group. He died at Howth, Co. Dublin, on 7 November 2000. His major works have been recorded on the Marco Polo and Chandos labels. His music manuscripts were deposited in the library of TCD, and the Contemporary Music Centre, Ireland, holds copies of his published and unpublished works. Entries on Boydell are to be found in most major music dictionaries.
He married (1944) Mary Angel Jones (singer, subsequently a glass historian), daughter of Francis Edward Jones, bank manager, and Gladys Jones (née Jameson); they had three sons, Cormac (b. 1946), ceramic artist; Barra (b. 1947), musicologist; and Marnac (1955–81) who died in a motorcycle accident.