by Dr Una Hunt, pianist, broadcaster and Irish music specialist
William Vincent Wallace
Born Waterford, Ireland 1812; died Chateau de Bagen, France 1865
The bicentenary of a neglected and uniquely-individual Irish composer will be celebrated on March 11th 2012. And, on the day, Waterford city will honour the birth of one of its most famous sons. William Vincent Wallace (1812-1865) was a most extraordinary musician and personality whose life story is the stuff of movies. But, over time his memory has sadly faded. If known at all nowadays it is as the composer of the once-famous opera Maritana.
In his day, he was also a great virtuoso on both the violin and piano, and an intrepid adventurer. Wallace visited parts of the world that no other Irish musician had set foot in and he was widely regarded as the first great instrumentalist to visit Australia, leaving an indelible mark on the early development of Australian music. While in America, he became an impresario and took part in the inaugural concert of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
Wallace’s gift for melody pervades all his work, and his operas like those of fellow-Irishman Michael William Balfe, are very unjustly neglected. The National Library of Ireland holds a collection of Wallace’s drawing-room music, mostly songs and piano music including a rare and fabulously ornate album dated 1854.
Dedicated to ‘The Ladies of the United States’, the volume was published by William Hall and Son, 239 Broadway, New York. Coincidentally, Wallace became an American citizen in the same year. The volume is sumptuously embellished with very fine lithographs produced by Sarony & Major, coloured by Spearing and Stutzman in the United States.
A facsimile album with an accompanying CD produced by RTÉ Lyric fm will be published as a commemorative edition in Autumn 2012. So, watch out for the up-coming information detailed on the RTÉ Lyric fm website. The publication has been generously sponsored by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to encourage greater awareness of Wallace’s music both in Ireland and around the world.