William Vincent Wallace

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For other people named William Wallace, see William Wallace (disambiguation).
William Vincent Wallace

William Vincent Wallace (11 March 1812 – 12 October 1865) was an Irish composer and musician.

Early life[edit]

Wallace was born at Colbeck Street, Waterford, Ireland. Both of his parents were Irish;[1] his father, of County Mayo, one of four children born in Killala Co Mayo in 1789 became a regimental bandmaster with the North Mayo Militia based in Ballina. While the band was temporarily stationed for one year in Waterford, Willam was born on 11 March 1812. The family returned to Ballina some months later and Willam spent his formative years in Ballina, taking an active part in his father's band and already composing pieces by the age of nine for the band recitals.

The band, having a reputation for high standards, apart from regimental duties would have featured at social events in big houses in the area. Under the tuition of his father and uncle, he wrote pieces for the bands and orchestras of his native area. Wallace became accomplished in playing various band instruments before moving from Ballina to Dublin in 1823.[2]

Having learned to play several instruments as a boy, Wallace became a leading violinist in Dublin and a fine pianist. At the age of 18 he was organist of the Thurles Roman Catholic Cathedral and taught piano at the Ursuline Convent. He fell in love with a pupil, Isabella Kelly, whose father consented to their marriage in 1831 on condition that Wallace become a Roman Catholic and take the name of Vincent.

Career and travels[edit]

An outdoor bust of a bearded man wearing a large patterned cap and a dicky bow tie. A plaque beneath reads: Vincent Wallace composer. Born Waterford 1812, died Pyrennes 1865. "In happy moments day by day, The sands of life may pass. In swift but tranquil tide away, From times inferring glass."
A bust of Wallace can be seen outside Waterford's Theatre Royal

Restless and adventurous as a young man, Wallace, with his wife and infant son, his sister Elizabeth, a soprano, and his brother Wellington, a flautist, emigrated in 1835 to Australia and gave family concerts. The family went to Sydney in 1836, and opened the first Australian music school. Elizabeth, a very accomplished pianist, married a well-known Australian singer, John Bushelle, with whom she gave many recitals. Wallace also imported pianos and gave recitals in Australia under the patronage of General Sir Richard Bourke. Having separated from his wife, he began a roving career. Wallace claimed that from Australia he went to New Zealand on a whaling-voyage in the South seas, visited most of the interior provinces of India and spent some time in tiger-hunting, and finally visited Chile, Peru and Argentina, giving concerts in the large cities of those countries. In 1841, Wallace conducted Italian opera in Mexico, and in the early 1840s he made a successful tour of the United States, and helped to found the New York Philharmonic Society.

Scene from Maritana (1845): The wedding of Don Cæsar and Maritana

He returned to London in 1845 and made various appearances as a pianist. In November of that year, his opera Maritana was performed at Drury Lane with great success,[2] and was later presented in Vienna, at Covent Garden and in Australia.[3] Wallace's sister, Elisabeth, appeared at Covent Garden in the title role in 1848. Maritana was followed by Matilda of Hungary (1847), Lurline (1860),[4] The Amber Witch (1861), Love's Triumph (1862) and The Desert Flower (1863) (based on the libretto of Halévy's Jaguarita l'Indienne). He also published a number of compositions for the piano. [2]

Vincent Wallace was a cultivated man and an accomplished musician, whose work as an operatic composer, at a period by no means encouraging to music in England, has a distinct historical value. Like Michael William Balfe, he was born an Irishman, and his reputation as one of the few composers known beyond the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland at that time is naturally coupled with Balfe's.[2]

Later life[edit]

A white marble headstone surrounded by many other gravestones
Wallace's grave at Kensal Green Cemetery, London, in 2014; visible behind it is Balfe's grave

In 1850, Wallace became an American citizen after a marriage in New York with Helen Stoepel, a pianist, and sister of composer Robert Stoepel. In later years he became almost blind, and he died in poor circumstances at the Château de Bagen, Sauveterre de Comminges on the French Pyrennes, on 12 October 1865, leaving a widow and two children. He was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London; his epitaph reads "Music is an art that knows no locality but heaven – Wm. V. Wallace".[1]



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