The composer here is not the Scottish William Wallace
(1860-1940), nor yet the American William Wallace (1933- ), but an earlier,
lesser known William Wallace who composed much excellent, heart-captivating
music that sadly has been neglected. It is good to see that Cala has
grasped the initiative to bring out this CD of his unknown fantasies.
William Wallace was born in Waterford, Southern
Ireland into a musical family, the son of William Wallace, Bandmaster.
The family travelled with overseas army postings and when discharged
they moved to Dublin where the young William’s musical prospects were
much brighter. By this time William Vincent could play almost every
instrument in the Regimental Band, which he had occasionally led, and
his familiarity with various instruments is evidenced later in life
in the details of his orchestral writing.
Wallace Snr. joined the Adelphi Theatre Orchestra with
his second son Wellington, who was a flautist. Young Vincent also became
a member of the Theatre Royal Orchestra where he soon became second
violin under James Badon, who had previously trained Michael Balfe.
Whenever Badon was absent, Vincent led the orchestra in his place, a
tribute to his precocious talent. The orchestra played in the International
Music Festival of 1829, which starred the legendary violinist Paganini,
and Vincent so mesmerised by his talent would sit up all night after
the concerts practising the Paganini pieces. With world-class musicians
visiting Dublin regularly, Vincent thus gained invaluable experience
to the extent that he composed and performed his own Violin Concerto.
In 1835, to improve poor health, William Jnr moved
to Sydney where he made a name as 'the Australian Paganini' by performing
a concerto on the violin in the first half of the evening and one on
the piano in the second half. He soon dominated the musical life of
Sydney and formed an Academy of Music there.
In April 1842 the Philharmonic Symphonic Society of
New York was formed and listed among the players at its first concert
was: "Pianoforte and Violin, W. Wallace."
He went on to make his London concert debut as a pianist
in 1845 and was well received. That year saw his first opera, Maritana,
performed fifty times within three months! Two years later Wallace took
it to Vienna where Maritana repeated its London success. The
Viennese appreciated and loved his melodic flow of music and it is a
measure of his standing that his work was staged there ahead of such
composers as Wagner and Lortzing, who, of course, ultimately achieved
greater fame. Five more operas were produced with Lurline (1860)
and The Amber Witch (1861) considered the best (neither recorded).
While Wallace is principally remembered for Maritana,
his ballads and songs graced many a singer's programme. One finds that
he has a gift of graceful melody and tunefulness. He composed numerous
pieces for piano and violin and solo piano in the classical mode, and
arranged Scottish and Irish folk tunes with equal facility.
These Celtic fantasies were lush pieces
with a musical box quality to some of them. They were clearly composed
for accomplished pianists with concert grands rather than parochial
pianists on parlour uprights. They are concerto-style pieces making
them appropriate for virtuoso performances. Although the traditional
airs are generally recognisable these Wallace compositions are more
in the nature of clever settings reminiscent of the UK theme [BBC’s
The notes omit to tell us the source of the material
and it is unlikely that many pieces were published because of the limited
sales likely from their elaborate settings. However, a clue is given
by referring to Roslin Castle as a ‘Fantaisie de Salon’. Chappell
published a few of these, for one called Fantaisie de Salon sur des
motifs de Lucrezia Borgia, composée et dédiée à
Lady William Molesworth par W.V. Wallace sits on my shelf. Published
at 3/6d it seems that Wallace also wrote folk songs in series. But why
they were titled in French by this publisher of New Bond Street, London
is a mystery. The settings are reminiscent of Preludes by Chopin who
died in 1849. Could it be that Wallace was adopting a French style in
Australian, Rosemary Tuck is becoming better known
in Europe and is gaining serious respect in Britain. This programme
provides the opportunity for her to exercise her virtuoso skills in
music that has been too-long neglected. Particular charm is found in
The Keel Row (tk 9) and My love is like a Red, Red Rose (tk12)
where deft fingerwork, lyrical feeling and good use of dynamics is a
joy to listen to.
The recording is first class and the spacious ambience
of the Waterford City Hall is superb. (It would make an excellent venue
for chamber recordings.) The top notes are captured with a pure and
bell-like quality that brings supreme elegance to the music. (We are
not told the make of the piano.) Rosemary Tuck’s performance throughout
is very good and provides us with an excellent archive of these forgotten
works. Hopefully, by the 2012 when we have the centenary of Wallace’s
birth there will be an opportunity to hear more of this composer’s music:
the orchestral parts to his operas are still in existence and a Mass
of his is reputed to be very good.
The notes give a short biography on Wallace and background
on the pieces (which range from 1846-1859). The dates, 1870 and 1884,
accorded to two of the pieces must be refer to publication dates as
Wallace was long dead by then.