The Italian Michele Esposito (1855 – 1929) was an immensely influential figure in Irish musical life. As well as his activities as a pianist and composer, he established an influential school of piano playing in the RIAM, set up, in 1894, a countrywide network of Local Centres Examinations (still flourishing to this day), and founded the Dublin Orchestral Society (1899 – 1914). He also established the publishers C. E. Editions, through which he propagated his performing editions of Beethoven, Mozart and others.
His contribution to the symphonic genre was his Symphony on Irish Airs dating from 1902. This was the winning entry for a Feis Ceoil composer’s competition for symphonies based on Irish folk tunes inaugurated in 1901, and apparently motivated by the success of Stanford’s Irish Symphony, composed some years previously.
The work was first performed by the Dublin Orchestral Society and received a number of occasions shortly after. A contemporary review in the Musical Times described it as a “masterly work of great power and beauty”. However it shared the fate of much of Esposito’s music immediately following his death, laspsing into obscurity.
On the composer’s centenary in 1955, the full score was published by An Gúm, the Irish state’s publishing house, under the title Ardshonáid Ghaelach/Sinfonia irlandese, but without accompanying parts, and was not performed again until 1969 with the RTE Symphony Orchestra under Eimear Ó Broin.