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William V. Wallace

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William Vincent Wallace (1812-65)

William Wallace was born in Colbeck Street, Waterford, on March 11, 1812. The great tragedian, Charles Kean was born in the same house.  Wallace's father was from Ballina, Co. Mayo and was, at the time, band-sergeant of the 29th Worcestershire Regiment that was then stationed in the city of Waterford.  His mother, Elizabeth, was a local girl.  He had a younger brother named Wellington who was born in Ballina in 1813 and a younger sister named Eliza born in 1814.              
William displayed remarkable musical talents from an early age and these were developed under the tuition of Otto Hamilton and John Ringwood, renowned teachers of the time in Waterford.  When only 7 years old he was able to play the clarinet as a member of his father's band and his father allowed him to conduct the band at the age of 12.

In 1830 he was appointed organist (at the age of 18) in the Thurles Catholic Cathedral and Professor of Music at the Ursuline Convent in the town.  At the convent he met and fell in love with a boarder from Frascati, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, named Isabella Kelly.  Isabella was a harpist of promise and is believed to have inspired the well-known tune '''Tis the Harp in the Air'' in the opera Maritana.

Despite the opposition of her sister who was a nun at the convent, William married Isabella the following year, while still under the age of 20.  He became a Catholic and took the name of Vincent as a tribute to his sister-in-law Sister Vincent. In later life he preferred to be known by the name of Vincent.

In 1831 after his marriage Wallace resigned from the posts in Thurles and returned to Dublin where he took up residence at No.10 South William Street.  He obtained the post of sub-leader in the Theatre Royal Orchestra, but in September of the same year he was so impressed by the playing of Paganini at the Dublin Music Festival that he resolved to become a violin virtuoso 

With a view to widening his horizons, but partly for health reasons (probably because of over-work), Wallace left Europe three years later at the age of 23 and did not return for ten years.  During this time he travelled extensively and had a remarkable series of adventures.  He arrived first in Australia, (in Hobart, Tasmania—known then as Van Diemen's Land) at the end of October 1835, and moved to Sydney in the following January, where he apparently deserted his wife.  His expressed intention was to become a sheep-farmer, and he did, in fact, help to stock a farm with the proceeds of one of his first concerts - which included a flock of sheep from a wealthy Australian.  This venture, however, was a failure, and he soon abandoned this idea for the more profitable musical life of Sydney.  His sister Eliza, who had accompanied them to Australia and was an accomplished soprano, married a popular Australian singer named John Bushelle.  Wallace joined her in a series of concerts.  He also tried his hand at running a music shop and a music school, but without success.

After incurring heavy debts in Australia Wallace went to New Zealand where he indulged in whale fishing, and also visited the Dutch East Indies and Madras. Among his many adventures recorded is that of being captured by a savage Maori tribe and being saved from their stew-pot only by the intervention of the chief's daughter.  He is also reported to have spent a whole year in a camp of cannibals, the only white man there.  On one occasion (in Simia) he had a narrow escape from a tiger which sprang at him while he was riding a horse.  He was thrown to the ground but recovered in time to shoot the animal.  In India he received high honours from native princes.  Finding his way to South America he travelled in Chile, Peru, the West Indies, Jamaica, Cuba and Mexico.  He was Director of Music at the Italian Theatre in Mexico in 1841-42.  Proceeding to the United States he performed as a violinist in New York (where he became one of the founders of the New York Philharmonic Society, and in Philadelphia, Baltimore and New Orleans.

Wallace returned to Europe in 1844 and having made a tour of Germany and Holland he settled in London for three years, being then in his mid-thirties.  His London concert debut was at Hanover Square Concert Rooms on May 8, 1845, and there he met Hayward St. Leger, an old friend from the Dublin Theatre Royal.  St. Leger recognized Wallace who was reported to have been wearing a large white hat with a very broad brim and a complete suit of planter's nankeen, and to have been carrying a shillelagh! St. Leger introduced Walllace to Edward Fitzball, the dramatist, who provided him with the libretto of 'Maritana'.  After its successful production Wallace gave a concert in the Rotunda, Dublin, on 9th February, 1846 and ‘Maritana’ was produced in Dublin later that year.  His second opera '' Matilda of Hungary '' was produced in 1847.

America Again
Visiting Paris, Wallace met Berlioz.  He was commissioned to write an opera for the Paris Opera but he had to abandon this plan because of threatened blindness. On specialist advice he left again in 1848 and spent another three years touring in America.  He lost most of his money, however, through unwise investments in piano manufacturing and in tobacco.  During this tour he formed a friendship with Helene Stoepel, a distinguished American pianist that culminated in their marriage in October, 1850.  Although Isabella was still alive, Wallace had fortified himself with counsel's opinion that his first marriage was "ab initio" illegal, as at the time he was under twenty and was '' bred up a Protestant!''

Last Years
Subsequent to this marriage Wallace returned to Europe.  His eyesight was again failing, but it improved after he had spent some years in Germany and he took up the composition of opera again.  His second most successful opera, Lurline, was produced in 1860 and was followed rapidly by other operatic works.  From 1854 onwards, however, he suffered a series of heart attacks, and his health generally was failing rapidly in the early 1860's.  In 1864 he was ordered to take a holiday in the South of France.  On the way, he fell ill with dropsy and was laid up for some time in Passy, Paris.  Here he had, as visitors, Rossini, Thalberg and Osborne (later Director of the Royal Academy of Music, London.)  He died subsequently in a lonely chateau in the Pyrenees on October 12,1865, at the age of 53.  His body was brought to London and buried at Kensal Green cemetery, beside the grave of Michael Balfe, eleven days later before a vast gathering of musical celebrities.

Isabella had returned to Ireland from Australia and taught music in Dublin for many years before she died, at the age of 87, in 1900.  Their only son died as a brother in the Charterhouse in England in 1909.  Helene Stoepel returned to New York where she died at the age of 58 in 1885.  Their two sons committed suicide in America.  Wallace’s sister Eliza died in Sydney, in August 1879.

Wallace’s Operas: He composed ten operas, six of which were published: Maritana (1845); Matilda of Hungary (1847); Lurline (1860); The Amber Witch (1861); Love's Triumph (1862); Desert Flower (1863)

A bust of Wallace was erected in Waterford in the 1990's. In 2002 this bust was re-located to a position at the entrance to the Theatre Royal. In 2005 a financial services centre was erected in Waterford and named Maritana Gate where there is a statue of Wallace in the atrium of the building.

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