Carl Hardebeck

Carl Hardebeck

Carl Hardebeck (1869-1945) was a musician, composer and arranger of Irish traditional music. [ [ Carl Hardebeck] ]


Hardebeck, whose father was German and mother was Welsh, was born in Clerkenwell, London in 1869. He lost his sight when he was a baby. He was educated in London and showed a marked aptitude for music.

Move to Ireland

At the age of twenty-four he moved to Belfast, where he opened a music store, but the venture failed. Despite this, he remained in Ireland for the rest of his life, teaching music, studying the Irish language and collecting folk songs from around the country. He lived and worked in Cork for a while, where he was professor of Irish music, but returned to Belfast and finally settled in Dublin in 1932, where he taught Irish and traditional music in the Dublin Municipal School for two years. He secured prizes at the Feis Ceoil for his compositions and on many occasions acted as adjudicator in singing and musical competitions.

Appearance and personality

Although a huge, well-built man, he was shy and retiring by nature. If it were not for his bald head and the forbidding round dark glasses that he always wore, he could have been described as a handsome man. In later life he suffered from bronchitis and the present of a bottle of whiskey, which would ‘loosen him out’, was always welcome. He spoke with a distinct Northern Irish accent and addressed everyone as ‘boss’. ‘If I had my sight, boss,’ he would say, ‘I’d be conducting an orchestra on a cruiser’. At one time he played the organ in Saint Mathew’s Church, Belfast. As there was an icy draught in the church, his bald head felt cold. Carl asked for and received permission to wear a priest’s black beretta, which confused everyone.

At home in Dublin, he played his excellent arrangements of Irish melodies on a Schiedmayer harmonium. The instrument had a 'percussion' stop, which Carl used to great effect. Carl also owned a Knauss piano, but played the harmonium by choice. He was quite an authority on plainchant. The noted Irish harpsichord maker, Cathal Gannon was a close friend of his for many years; Carl taught him how to appreciate the structure of the classical symphony and concerto and passed on his enthusiasm and love of Irish melodies.


Unfortunately, very little attention has been given to Hardebeck, who was one of the instigators in the revival of Irish music; indeed he was largely forgotten about after his death. This was possibly due to his mixed origins and place of birth. His arrangement for orchestra of "The Lark in the Clear Air" was a fine piece of music, but he was content to sell it to the music publishers Boosey & Hawkes for just six guineas.


On Saturday, 10 February, 1945, Carl Hardebeck died. A Radio Éireann-sponsored symphony concert, held in the Capitol Theatre in Dublin, began with a graceful tribute to the great man: a sympathetic performance of his orchestral variations upon "Seoithín Seothó".

The state funeral was held in Saint Joseph’s Church, Berkeley Road, Dublin. The church was packed; various government ministers, the Lord Mayor and representatives of the President and Mr de Valera were there. Hardebeck’s own "Kyrie" and "Agnus Dei" were performed at the Requiem Mass. He was interred in Glasnevin Cemetery, where the "Benedictus" was chanted by the clergy present. A vote of sympathy was issued by the Irish National League of the Blind to Hardebeck’s widow and relatives, in which the hope was expressed ‘that the nation as a whole would not be unmindful of the important contribution which the late Dr Hardebeck had made to Irish culture, music and art’.


This article is based on extracts from 'Cathal Gannon – The Life and Times of a Dublin Craftsman 1910-1999' by Charles Gannon (Lilliput Press) ISBN 1843510863. []

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