Vincent Wallace, 1812-1865
Life and Work
Wallace is one of three opera composers who made up the 'Irish
Ring', with Balfe and Benedict. He was born in Waterford, Ireland
to a bandmaster father, who taught him to play the instruments of his
regimental band. When the family moved to Dublin William was in his teens and
before long became second violinist in the Theatre Royal pit orchestra, where
on occasions he deputized for the leader. He studied the piano with W.S.
Conran, and the organ with Haydn Corri that led to an appointment as organist
of Thurles R.C. Cathedral and Professor of music at the cathedral convent
in 1830. A year later he returned to Dublin, and its Theatre
Royal orchestra, where he was impressed by a visit by Paganini.
He made his
début as a composer and recitalist at the age of 22, playing his violin
concerto at the Dublin Anacreontic Society. Ever adventurous, he
emigrated to Australia
in 1835 with his young wife, hoping to finance himself with his
entrepreneurial musical talent as a violinist and pianist. The Australian press
hailed him, an 'Australian Paganini' and 'Sydney's undisputed
musical emperor'. Living in Sydney, Wallace opened an academy of music in Bridge Street,
under governor Bourke's patronage. He stayed in Australia
three years and wrote many parlour ballads whilst there.
He left to visit the Americas;
Chile, Jamaica and Cuba and in Mexico City, conducted the Italian opera season
in 1841, and composed a mass there before moving on to New Orleans (1841),
Philadelphia (1842) and Boston (1843). Wallace's target was New York
where his fame had preceded him as 'the first violinist and pianist in this
country'. He left New
York to tour Germany
and the Netherlands before arriving in London for a concert at the Hanover Square Rooms in May 1845. In the programme
he played the famous Wallace piano piece, Cracovienne.
During the period of travel, Wallace
had soaked up a number of musical styles and felt he was ready to write an
opera. With a book by Edward Fitzball, the composer set to work on Maritana, which was first performed at Drury Lane's
Theatre Royal on November 15,
1845. Both public and press were enthusiastic and
soon its music was published and heard everywhere. The opera, with dialogue,
toured widely and became as strong a hit as Balfe's Bohemian Girl.
Following Maritana, Wallace set to work on more ambitious operas, the first
of which was Matilda of Hungary
(1847), which failed to achieve the success of Maritana. He
then began writing Lurline again to
a text by Edward Fitzball. It was intended
for production by
Alfred Bunn but this time at Covent
Garden. However, Bunn gave up theatre management before
it could be performed and Wallace's
absence, first with eye problems and
then on a prolonged visit to South America
hardly helped his cause. Eventually,
it was February 23,
1860 when Lurline
was premiered by
the Pyne-Harrison company at Covent Garden with
tremendous success. Unusually for English opera of the time,
it was through-composed. Lurline toured firstly
with the Pyne-Harrison, and later with Carl Rosa and Moody Manners opera
Wallace followed it
up a year later with The Amber Witch using a text by Henry
Chorley, critic of the Athenæum magazine. However, he altered
some of Chorley's words and introduced a cheery Rondo at the end to replace the
plaintive solo Chorley had provided. The premiere, conducted by Charles Hallé, was well
received, but the vagaries of the theatre world cut the run short and it never
had the exposure it should. The work went touring however and was last picked
up by the Moody Manners company.
Triumph (1862) with libretto by Planché, and The Desert Flower (1863) with book by
Harris & Williams were his last works to get to the London stage, but both
were not widely reported and never became part of any repertoire. Wallace
retained his interest in opera writing, and was working on an opera Estrella in 1864 when he became
seriously ill (with heart attacks). He retired to Passy, in Paris and ended his
days at the Château de Haget. His body was returned to London and he was
buried in Kensal Green Cemetery on
October 23, 1865 where a new headstone was
erected in September 2007.
Commemoration of the new Wallace
headstone, September 2007, with Richard Bonynge and representatives of
Waterford's 'Friends of Wallace' group.
(photograph courtesy of Andrew
Victorian Opera Orchestra and chorus conducted
Bonynge on Naxos
The Naxos CD booklet contains essays on the background history of Lurline,
Wallace the composer and singers' biographies and a libretto of the opera is available
for more details of
the recording and how
to obtain it.
This benchmark recording of Maritana was recorded
at the O'Reilly Hall, University College, Dublin on 19-20 September, 1995, following
three public concert
performances round Ireland.
was the first opera written by the
composer (1845) and set a foundation for five other operas to follow. The libretto was by Edward Fitzball & Alfred Bunn. It
has now been released
for more details of
Beaufort Opera, Joseph Vandernoot, Rare Recorded Editions 148/149.
Ballads, opera excerpts
and other works
from an historic recording (1931)
of Maritana featuring Heddle
Nash, Denis Noble, Miriam Licette
and Clara Serena available on Cavalcade
of English Singers, Volume 2,
from Wallace's Maritana,
Balfe's The Bohemian Girl,
and Benedict's The Lily of
conducted by Havelock Ellis reissued on EMI
A selection of arias from
Wallace operas (as well as from Balfe, Faraday and Sullivan) sung by Deborah Riedel with Richard Bonynge conducting on The Power of Love,
Sutherland sings "Scenes that are brightest"
from Maritana on
Tuck plays some of his piano works on Cala
Records CACD88042, Cala
few excerpts from Maritana are also available on http://www.youtube.com/
- search on Maritana or William Vincent Wallace.
To mark the bi-centenary of the
Irish composer William Vincent Wallace a new biography has been published by Dr Andrew Lamb
Vincent Wallace (Fullers Wood Press, 2012).
The biography reveals fascinating
facts about this colourful composer that have been
overlooked or distorted by earlier biographers. A
much clearer picture is presented of the genesis of Wallace's operas and why one was deliberately shelved for production a decade
is available from
Dr. A. Lamb, 1 Squirrel Wood, West Byfleet, KT14 6PE, UK.
Please contact him for
more information:- Tel. (+44) (0)1932 342566
ISBN 978 0 9524149 7 1,
237pp + 30 illustrations.
accounts include a short memoir by W.H. Gratton Flood written in 1912, recently
reprinted, and a short book, William Vincent Wallace: A vagabond composer by
Robert Phelan, Waterford: Celtic Publications, 1994. Both are available from Cheshire Opera Enterprises.
The Journal of
the British Music Society, Volume 25, 2003 includes an article by David Grant "A
Reappraisal of W. Vincent Wallace with new documentary information on his death".
For details of where to get
the article see http://www.britishmusicsociety.com/pages/publications.html.
There are few books on Wallace or even on
this era of English opera. The Romantic Age
1800-1914, edited by Nicholas Temperley,
London: Athlone Press, 1981, issued more recently as The Blackwell History of Music in Britain, Vol. 5, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988 includes a chapter by Michael
Hurd on "Opera: 1830-1865". Other books include George Biddlecombe's English opera from
1834 to 1864 with particular reference to the works of Michael Balfe, New York: Garland
Publishing, 1994, which includes a chapter on Wallace.
© Victorian Opera
Northwest, 2005 - 2012.