2012 is the bicentenary of the birth of William Vincent Wallace at Colbeck St in Waterford City. He became a world famous composer and musician. He was baptised at Christ Church Cathedral where he later learned to play the organ. Dr Eric Sweeney is creating a tribute to Wallace with music of 1812- including a rare piece by Wallace - for the Morning Prayer Service 10 a.m. on Sunday 11th March at Christ Church Cathedral (Wallace's birthdate.) This will be followed by the Mayor of Waterford City launching the year of celebration and musical occasions.
More events to follow on 14-15 March 2012
Wallace's 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 companies.
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.
Love’s 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.