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Irish Classical Musicians – Seven Pioneers of the 19th Century
By Basil Walsh

Introduction – Ireland’s Magnificent Seven
During the period, 1770 to about 1870, seven Irish born classical musicians and performers emerged on the concert stages and in the salons and opera houses in Europe, America, Australia and elsewhere with great success. They truly “paved the way” for the many Irish singers and musicians who would follow over the next two-hundred years.

What differentiates these seven individuals from other Irish born musicians of the period is the fact that each of them achieved great fame internationally. Their success was not only in Britain but also in foreign countries where they were often the sole Irish representative in a musical environment that was generally dominated by Italian and French artists along with some Germans and other nationalities.

They were the first Irish born professionals to emerge on the international classical music scene. Six were men, and one was an attractive young female singer of the first rank. Their legacies live on today! Four of these artists were born in Dublin, two in Limerick and one in Waterford.

This blog is all about these remarkable individuals, their lives, their music and performances and the recognition they received as they first appeared professionally in Ireland and London and then countries such as, France, Italy, Austria, Germany and in America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South America, Russia and other places.

Their music was not “Irish” music in the “traditional folk music” sense. Their compositions and the music they performed was primarily based on the classical Italian and French models and to a lesser extent the German/Austrian classical musical genre of the time.

Great musicians who became friends or associates in some manner of these seven Irish artists included such luminaries as, Beethoven, Weber, Rossini, Cherubini, Bellini, Donizetti, Mozart, Clementi, Liszt, Thalberg, Moscheles, J. Strauss, Berlioz, Chopin, Auber, Meyerbeer and Verdi.

London Bound
Like so many other Irish born artists and writers of the 19thcentury and beyond, they were initially drawn to London where the opportunities were more rewarding both financially and artistically. Some of these Irish artists traveled far and wide in the pursuit of their careers and financial rewards. Some never returned to Ireland once they left. Others returned to great acclaim and success in the land of their birth.

All of these gifted Irish musicians were active long before the recording industry as we know it today emerged in London, Paris, Milan and New York from the 1890’s on. So their personal performances, or their voices never had the benefit of being recorded. However, their importance to musical history, apart from being Irish born was such that their contributions and reputations are still recognized internationally today.

Some of the works of the composers in the group, by reason of their art can be heard on modern day CD recordings. The legacy of our young Irish soprano is cast in time and place in the reviews of her performances. We will never really know how she sounded except for the thoughts expressed by reviewers in newspapers and musical periodicals of the period, in the cities where she performed around the Globe.

However, we can get a brief glimpse of our Irish prima donna’s signature song, “Kathleen Mavourneen” and the style in which it might have been sung during the 19th Century from a very early recording (1905) by the leading soprano (Adelina Patti), of the latter half of the 19th century— more on this later, and on recordings.

The Growth of Classical Music in Ireland – Brief Background
For almost 800 years Ireland had been under British rule, until 1921. Over the centuries Dublin had become a major port and center for British commerce and trade. It also had a strong military base in the city. It was considered by some to be the “second” city of the British Empire. By about the early 1700’s, musicians and singing-actors (many of whom were continental born) who had performed in London started to make the journey across the Irish sea to Dublin… a total distance of about 300 miles between the two capital cities, to perform at one of the many theatres then functioning in Dublin.

These multi-national travelling musicians and singers, introduced new songs, orchestral and vocal pieces, cantatas and concertos and also performed early works by various Italian composers and the German born, composer, George Frideric Handel. On occasions, later in the 19th century some of these musicians even extended their tour of Ireland to give concerts in places such as, Cork, Limerick, Kilkenny and Belfast. So classical music and opera started to make a significant foothold on Irish soil around this time.

Dublin was quite an affluent city with its large British military base and wealthy Anglo-Irish residents with their Georgian homes and townhouses. The city was continually in a rapid expansion mode. This included a “wide streets” planning improvement program and the erections of many new beautifully designed large building. A number of these buildings still exist in Dublin today. By the close of the 18th century the city had a population of about 200,000 or so, residents. Its lifestyle was reflective of London in many ways.

Music flourished because of the city’s many theatres and the associated lifestyle of its residents. The Irish themselves embraced classical music early on, to the point where traditional Irish folk music was eventually replaced, at least in Dublin. Indeed, perhaps the last great traditional “Irish music” event of that period was the Belfast Harp Festival of 1792.

Music and Charitable Events
Classical music in Dublin was very much a mirror image of London’s taste, which had regular Italian opera seasons and symphonic concerts at various times of the year. A number of London music publishing houses had also opened branches in Dublin to cater to the affluent Anglo-Irish Ascendancy who controlled much of the musical activity in the country. The Ascendancy tied musical performances in many instances to charitable events, such as fundraising for hospitals, orphanages, prisons etc. There were around twenty such organizations that had been chartered in Ireland for this express purpose by the 1790s.

Ireland’s Landmark Musical Event – the “Messiah”
Towards the end of the year 1741, one of the most famous musician in Europe of the period, George Frideric Handel (who had lived in London for many years) decided to visit Dublin. Handel was apparently somewhat discontented with recent London reviews and the treatment of some of his works. Handel’s visit to Ireland was immortalized in April 1842 when he directed the world premiere of his latest work, the “Messiah” at the Great Music Hall in Fishamble Street in Dublin. A London born musician, Matthew Dubourg who was Master of the State Music of Ireland led the orchestra for the premiere performance which was in aid of both Mercer’s Hospital and several prisons in the city. Apparently around 700 people crowded into the Music Hall for the event, which was highly successful.

Handel gave several other performances at various venues. His visit to Ireland lasted several months and it had the effect of really putting Dublin on the map for European musical artists of all types. It also set the tone for musical life in Dublin for the next 100 years or more.

Music at Christ Church Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Both of these Anglican (Church of Ireland) Cathedrals in Dublin provided musical training, had large choirs and important musicians on staff for more than 150 years. Their members worked closely withlocalorchestras and with Handel when he was performing his various works in Ireland. Their contribution to musical life was unparelled.

Rotunda Concert Rooms, Dublin
The Rotunda Hospital with its adjacent Concert Rooms and Garden was formally opened in central Dublin in 1757. The very special Rotunda Concert Rooms, with its beautiful main room curvature, recesses and chandeliers was reportedly able to accommodate up to 2,000 people because it had no central support columns, which left the entire floor space free for its patrons. The building was originally designed for fund raising concerts in aid of the hospital. For the next one-hundred years or so the Rotunda Concert Rooms would play an important part in the musical life of Dublin. At least five of our seven unique Irish musicians performed there during the first half of the 19th century.

The Rotunda Concert Rooms buildings still extant today. Sadly, despite the incredible musical history associated with the venue it is virtually derelict (2008). Some of the greatest musical performers in history have given concerts there.

Considerations should be given to the Rotunda building being declared a historic landmark and fully restored as a musem to Ireland’s great classical musical heritage and the people who performed there. A permanent display should be created. There is pleanty of original material available for a display.

The First Mozart Operas
In 1811 Dublin saw it’s first Mozart opera, Cosi fan tutte. Excerpts from other Mozart operas were also performed around this time. Later in 1819 Mozart’s, Don Giovanni, and Le Nozze di Figaro were also performed. Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia was first performed in 1829, alsong with three other Rossini operas, Il Turco in Italia, La gazza Ladra and Otello.

In 1821 the new 3,000 seat Theatre Royal opened in Hawkins Street, Dublin. King George IV on a visit to Ireland attended a Sheridan play at the theatre the year it opened. In 1827 an English language version of Weber’s opera Der Freischutz was performed there, with considerable success. In a short period of years the Theatre Royal would become the main venue for opera, concerts and other entertainment in Dublin until it burned down in 1880. Some of our unique musicians performed in the orchestra and on the stage of the Theatre Royal during the 19th century.

Renowned Performers visit Dublin – Catalani, Pasta, Thalberg, Pagannini and Liszt
In 1807 Angelica Catalani, one of Italy’s most renowned and highest paid singers first arrived in Dublin to give a concert. She returned several times after that making her final visit in 1823. Another great Italian soprano, Giuditta Pasta visited Dublin towards the end of 1827 as a guest of Lady Morganin her Kildare Street home. Within a few years, Pasta was to create the title roles in Vincenzo Bellini’s La Sonnambula and Norma in Milan. She would also become a close associate of one of our unique Irish musicians.

By 1830 after visiting London Italian opera troupes included Dublin and other Irish cities on their scheduled. It wasn’t long before Italian operatic troupes and other musicians regularly began traveling to Cork, Limerick, Kilkenny, Belfast and other places after their initial performances in Dublin. The legendary Italian violinist, Nicola Pagannini performed in Dublin in 1831. In 1836, perhaps the most prominent singer in Europe, Maria Malibran, was scheduled to visit Dublin for a concert, however fate took a hand and she died tragically in England from an accident shortly before she was due to travel to Dublin. In 1838 the renowned pianist, Sigismond Thalberg gave a concert, in the company of one of our returning Irish artists.

In 1841, the great pianist and composer, Franz Liszt gave a concert in the Rotunda. Liszt also performed in Kilkenny, Cork and Limerick. Our young Irish soprano participated in the Dublin concert.

From around 1830 onward Dublin saw regular performance of Italian Opera at the Theatre Royal, with international artists such as, Giuseppi de Benis, Antonio Sapio, Signora Kintherland and others. Over the next decades some of the greatest singers in Europe, appeared in opera including, Luigi Lablache, Giulia Grisi, Giovanni Mario, Fanny Persiani, Giovanni Battista Rubini and Jenny Lind. They performed in works by, Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, and later Verdi at the Theatre Royal. A number of our special Irish musicians became life-long friends and associates of these artists.

In 1834 the Antient Concert Rooms opened in Dublin as a new venue for large vocal and instrumental concerts. This was followed in 1848 by the Royal Irish Academy of Music which still functions today. There were also theatres functioning in Wexford, Waterford, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Kilkenny, Belfast and other cities and towns in Ireland by the early decades of the 19th century. There were severl theatre orchestras, and many music teachers in Dublin and elswhere in Ireland.

It was in this overall environment that our seven unique Irish musicians emerged for their early training and first professional engagements. Some of them were destined to become closly associated with a number of the above distinguished continental artists during the early to middle of the 19th century.

Selected Bibliography

  • Music in Nineteenth-Century Ireland, Editors, Michael Murphy and Jan Smaczny
  • Keeper’s Recital – Music and Cultural History in Ireland, 1770-1970, by Harry White
  • Rotunda Music in Eighteen-Century Dublin, by Bryan Boydell
  • A Dublin Musical Calendar 1700-1760, by Bryan Boydell
  • Music in Ireland 1848-1998, Edited by Richard Pine
  • To Talent Alone: The Royal Irish Academy of Music, by Charles Acton & Richard Pine
  • Anglo-Irish Music 1780-1830, by Ita M. Hogan
  • Annals of the Theatre Royal Dublin, by R. M. Levey and J. O’Rorke
  • Irish Musical History, by W. H. Grattan Flood
  • Opera in Dublin 1705-1797, by T. J. Walsh
  • Opera in Dublin 1798-1820, by T. J. Walsh
  • Opera in Old Dublin 1819-1838, by T. J. Walsh
  • Catherine Hayes – The Hibernian Prima Donna, by Basil Walsh
  • Michael W. Balfe – A Unique Victorian Composer, by Basil Walsh
  • First Nights: Five Musical Premieres (Handel’s Messiah), by Thomas F. Kelly
  • Irish Classical Recordings; A Discography of Irish Art Music, by Axel Klein
  • Liszt: My Travelling Circus (covers Liszt’s visit to Ireland in 1841), by David Allsobrook

Seven International Pioneering Irish Musicians/Performers
You will be probably be amazed by the achievements of these unique Irish born musicians.

(NOTE: Since Ireland was under British rule during the period in question Irish born musicians are generally referred to as being “British” which was usually how they were perceived while on the continent or performing in Britain.)
These brief biographies are featured chronologically, based on the year of birth.

Michael Kelly (1762-1826) - Singer, Composer and Theatre Manager.

Michael Kelly (or O’Kelly)was born in Dublin in Dec 1762. He died in Margate, England Oct 1826. He was born into a musical family. His father Thomas Kelly was also a wine merchant and Maser of Cermonies at Dublin Castle where he managed special functions.

Kelly’s early musical training and vocal studies initially took place in Dublin. At the youthful age of 15 in 1777, he performed in Italian opera in Dublin with a visiting opera troupe. On the advice of one of the Italian singers he decided to go to Naples for further study departing Dublin in May 1779.

After a few years study and various operatic roles in Naples and elswhere he made his way to Venice to perform in opera there. Venice was then under Austrian Hapsburg rule and linked closely to Vienna. While performing in Venice he was invited by the Austrian Ambassador, Count Durazzo to sing at the Royal Court Theatre in Vienna, along with the British soprano, Nancy Storace.

By now Kelly had performed in many operas throughout the Italian states— he was a professional singer and he had also become fluent in the language. He made his debut in Vienna in April 1783 in Salieri’s opera, La scuola de’ gelosi along side Nancy Storace.

During these years Kelly had gained great experience as a singer. However, perhaps his most significant contribution to classical music as an Irishman is the fact that during the four years he spent in Vienna he became a close friend and associate of the renowned composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The relationship between the two musicians grew profesionally and socially and it eventually led to the Irishman, Kelly being offered the roles of Don Basiloo and Don Curzio in the world premiere of Mozart’s now famous opera, Le Nozze di Figaro in Vienna, in May 1786. Storace was also in the performance. An interesting realted fact— is that Kelly’s name was shown as “Occhely” in the original Mozart manuscript (1786) for the opera! While in Vienna, Kelly was consideded an important member of the Italian Opera there.

Michael Kelly and Nancy Storace historically were the only two British singers to have sung in the premiere of a Mozart opera.

After Vienna, Kelly visited Mozart’s father, Leopold Mozart in Salzburg before continuing on to London with Nancy Storace in 1787, where he appeared in musical plays at the Drury Lane theatre. For almost twenty-years he had a successful career as a vocalist in England and Ireland. During this period he also gave concerts and had his first compositions staged. Subsequentally, he took over management of the important King’s Theatre where most Italian Opera was performed in London. He also became the director of music at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane in London. In Dublin he mounted seasons of Italian operas.

In 1802 at the age of 40, he ventured into the wine business, opening a shop and music salon in Pall Mall, London. He was not successful and eventually his London business went into bankruptcy in September 1811, while he was in Dublin performing. His troubles continuuedtomount and rumors also began to circulate that some of the musical works Kelly has published over the years were possibly not his own compositions but music of other composers which he had brought with him from Italy.

One of his contemporaries, Richard Brinsley Sheridan when questioned about his fellow Dubliner was heard to remark with some amusement "Perhaps he should inscribe over his shop, ‘Composer of Wines and Importer of Music.’"

Kelly went on to compose a vast amount of songs in English, Italian and French which were published in London during the early 19th century. One of his most durable compositions was, an opera called, Blue Beard (1798). His last stage appearance was in Dublin in 1811, after which he decided to retire. He was almost 50 years old. In retirement he wrote a monumental (170,000 words!) two-volume memoir with the assistance of a ‘ghost’ writer, T. Hood. The memoir is still available today. The memoir contains some fascinating information about Vienna and the time of Mozart.

His association with Mozart brought him great fame and a place in musical history. However, many of the songs he wrote were very successful in their day. His songs became popular not only in Britain and Ireland but also in America. His tenor voice was said to have had great power and a wide range with a solid top. He was also considered a good musician. He had a likable personality socially and he acquired many friends over the years.

Unfortunately, none of his music has been recorded as far as it is known. Michael Kelly died in Margate, England in October 1826. He was an important musician and man of the theatre and quite famous in his day, particularly in London and Dublin. He was also an intimate friend of R. B. Sheridan and the Irish poet Thomas Moore and a noted bon-vivant!

Kelly’s life was fascinating enough for the 20th century writer Naomi Jacobs to publish a novel in 1950, The Irish Boy, based on his life.


  • Reminiscences of Michael Kelly of the King’s Theatre and Theatre Royal Drury Lane, by Michael Kelly – two volumes – London 1826. Reprinted 1968
  • The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, editor, Stanley Sadie - 1992
  • Opera in Dublin 1705-1797 by T. J. Walsh – 1973
  • Opera in Dublin 1798-1820, by T. J. Walsh
  • Irish Musical History, by W. H. Grattan Flood – 1905
  • Mozart and His Circle – A Biographical Dictionary by Peter Clive -1993
  • Music in Britain: the Romantic Age 1800-1914 - Editor, Nicholas Temperley – 1988
  • Leigh Hunt and Opera Criticism, by Theodore Fenner – 1972
  • The Rise of English Opera, by Eric Walter White – 1951
  • Opera in London – Views of the Press 1785-1830 by Theodore Fenner – 1997
  • The King’s Theatre 1704-1867, London’s First Italian Opera House by Daniel Nalbach – 1972

John Field (1782-1837) - Pianist and Composer

John Field was born in Dublin in Jul 1782. He died in Moscow, Russia in Jan 1837. He was the son of a violinist and music had been an occupation in the Field family for several generations.

Field first studied music with his father, Robert Field a violinist in an orchestra at one of the city theatres. His son. John showing exceptional talent at age nine in 1791, was placed under the tutelage of the renowned Italian musician and composer, Tommaso Giordani who was then living and teaching in Dublin.

Field made his official debut at age nine as a pianist at the Rotunda Concert Rooms in Dublin on March 24, 1792 in a series of three Lenten concerts that were arranged by Giordani under the title ”Spiritual Concerts.”

A newspaper report of Field’s performance said “…the concerto on the Piano Forte by Master Field was really an astonishing performance by such a child, and had execution far beyond what could have been expected.” Young Field performed at all three concerts, presumabely with equal success.

He continued to perform at other concerts in the Rotunda and in April of the same year he played an original work by his teacher Giordani which the teacher had composed specially for him. Later on, in 1795 Field was important enought to have had some of his early Dublin compositions for piano published in London.

In the summer of 1793, the young prodigy’s father moved the family to Bath in England where he took-up a position in the orchestra as a violinist. Their stay there was short for whatever reason as a result the family moved on to London, possibly sometime early in 1794.

Field’s father still recognizing his young son’s developing talents made the decision to place John with the well established Muzio Clementi, a pianist and composer who was then perhaps the most important teacher of piano in London. the decision was an expensive one as Clementi’s fees were very significant. Clementi also manufactured pianos and had a music salon in London where he sold pianos and sheet music in addition to giving lessons to selected pupils. As part of his apprentiship requirements young Field was required to demonstrate the instruments for prospective clients.

Through this exposure Field gained recognition and prominence as a soloist. He also gave concerts at which he played some of his own compositions. His first major composition, a concerto was composed in 1798 and performed early in 1799. He was now almost 17 years old and maturing as a professional artist.

Annually, Clementi made extended business trips to Paris, Vienna, Berlin, St. Petersburgin Russia and to other cities during which he promoted the sale of his pianos and music. He took Field with him as his assistant and for demonstrations.

Over time Field built a strong international reputation as an excellent pianist and composer. In time, Field’s talents were always in demand from Russia to London from Paris to Vienna and lots of places in between because of his brillance and style.

By 1800 Field had technically completed his apprenticeship requirements with Clementi. In 1803, Field decided to stay on in St. Petersburg which was the home of the Russian Royalty where there was much opportunity for sponsorship, teaching and concert activity. He had also learned French, which was the language of the Russian Royal Courtand aristocracy. He traveled to places such as Riga, Mitau (now in Lativa) and Moscow and later returned to Paris, Vienna and London to give concerts with great acclaim.

While in Russia, Field also had the distinction of giving piano lessons to the future great Russian composer, Michael Glinka, who is considered the father of Russian opera.

In St. Petersburg in May 1810 he married a French student, possibly one of his more gifted pupils named, Adelaide Victoria Percheron. The marriage was not successful given Field’s eccentric lifestyle. While still married he had a romantic affaire with a Mlle. Charpentier by whom he had a son named Leon in 1815. Field developed a strong affection for the boy. Leon later traveled with his father in Italy and other places. He also became a successful opera singer in his own right.

However, Field also had a son Adrien in 1819 by his legal wife, Adelaide . In time, his wayward double lifestle supported by his large income from teaching, concerts and compositions— eventually resulted in separation from his wife Adelaide in Moscow in 1821.

Field continued to travel extensively around Europe giving concerts to sold out houses, not only in Paris, Vienna and London but also in Brussels, Marseilles, Lyons, Geneva, Milan and Naples. He achieved great fame, particularly in London and Paris where the young Polish pianist Frederic Chopin attended his concerts, no doubt curious about Field’s new composition “the Nocturne” which Field had first composed and performed in Russia in 1814. His talents were particularly admired by composer, Robert Schumann and composer and pianist, Franz Liszt.

His later years were plagued by excessive alcohol, a decline in his abilities to perform and later, by cancer. He did have a warm reunion with his mother in the 1820’s. She was now 78 years old and living in London. He had provided for her financially over the years but somehow he had not taken the time to visit her in over 30 years.

He died in Moscow at age 54 in January 1837. A gravestone marks his final resting place in the Vedensky Cemetry in Moscow. Having left Dublin with the family in 1793 he never returned to Ireland, not even to give a concert.

Fortunately John Field music lives on today. His output was extensive. It included concertos for piano and orchestra, many nocturnes, Chamber music, rondos, fantasies, dances, songs and other works. His piano concertos and nocturnes have been widely recorded and are played frequently on radio and at live concerts.Throughout Europe during his lifetime he was accredited with being the composer who first developed the Nocturne format in music. His compositions for piano were to influence a whole new generation of pianists that came after Field, people such as, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Thalberg, Moscheles and others.

Selected Recordings/Selected Works:
Nocturnes (Piano) Telarc CD 80199 – 15 Nocturnes – John O’ Connor, Pianist
Telarc CD 80290 – Sonatas and Nocturnes (not incl. in above) – John O’Connor, Pianist

Concertos (Piano & Orchestra) Telarc CD 80370 – Piano Concertos, No. 2 & No. 3 – John O’Connor, Pianist and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras.


  • The Life & Music of John Field 1782-1837 by Patrick Piggott -1973
  • Dublin Historical Record Vol. 35, No.4 Sep 1982: Article – John Field 1782-1837, by Terry de Valera -1982
  • John Field – Inventor of the Nocturne by William H. Gratton Flood – 1920 (Pamplet)
  • John Field, by A. A. Nikolayev/translated by H. M. Cardello – 1973
  • Music in Britain: the Romantic Age 1800-1914 - Editor, Nicholas Temperley- 1988

Thomas Moore (1779-1852) - Poet, Composer and Singer.

Thomas Moore was born in Dublin in May 1779. He died in Wiltshire, England in February 1852. His father, John Moore was from Kerry— his mother, Anastatia was from Wexford. The father ran a modest grocery shop in Aungier Street in central Dublin.

While growing-up in Dublin he studied music and piano. He was also well educated in the classics in private schools in Dublin. He entered Trinity College, Dublin in 1794, graduating wit a B. A. from the University in 1799. He then moved to London where he studied Law. However, his motivations from the beginning led him towards the literary and musical fields.

His first literary work, Ode to Anacreon based on the Greek poet’s Anacreon writings, was published with great success in 1800. It was a work celebrating wine, women and song— as a result Moore developed a somewhat devilish reputation in London. The work was dedicated to the Prince of Wales.

With the publications of the first of the ten volumes of Moore’s Melodies in 1808, Thomas Moore’s fame in the musical world was secured both in Britain and on the continent. Some considered the Melodies to be Moore’s greatest lifetime work.

However, Moore’s talents were always more literary than musical, although by his own account it was really music that caused him to start writing poetry.

Moore’s next endeavor, The poetical works of the late Thomas Little, published in 1801 continued in the same mode, although it was not quite as successful. His reputation grew to the extent that he was invited to the drawing rooms and salons of Society, where his vocal and musical attributes were also praised by the elite of London.

In 1805, having spent some time on the Island of Bermuda as a British Government representative he took time off to travel in America and Canada. Meanwhile, his assistant in Bermuda proceeded to mismanage the Government funds and in the process Moore was implicated.

To avoid imprisionment in Britain Moore went to live in continental Europe instead of returning to Britain. During this period he spent extensive time traveling in Italy with his long-time friend, Lord Byron. Byron gave Moore his memoirs to “do with them as he wished.” Ultimately Moore, along with his publisher, John Murray, for whatever reason decided to burn Byron’s manuscript— preferring instead to write his own biography about his gifted friend based on Byron’s letters and Journal.

Additionally, Moore also eventually managed to deal with his Bermuda financial obligations and was able to return to London and reside there.

In 1808 the first edition of ten volumes of Moore’s Melodies was published, the arrangement was by the Irish musician John Stevenson. The poetry was by Moore, and the music for the songs was adapted from old Irish Folk tunes which had been collected and put on paper by Edward Bunting.

Eventually, the subsequent nine volumes which were published through 1834 contained more than 130 songs. Some of the more famous being, ‘Tis the Last Rose of Summer,The Harp that Once Through Tara’s Halls, The Minstrel Boy, Oft In The Stilly Night and Erin the Tear and the Smile.

In 1817, Moore wrote Lalla Rookh, an extensive oriental romantic poetic work which became very popular and also the subject for an opera and other musical compositions by various European composers, such as Gaspare Spontini, Felicien David, Hector Berlioz and Anton Rubinstein and in Britain, Charles V. Stanford and Granville Bantock.

Throughout the years that have followed many new editions of Moore’s Melodies have been published including one particularly important arrangement by the Irish composer, Michael W. Balfe in 1859, in London and later, another by another Irish born composer, Charles V. Stanford. Many of the songs had strong patriotic themes which also made them very popular in America. Moore’s recognition continued to grow, not only in Britain but also throughout continental Europe and in America, Canada Australia and New Zealand. Selected songs from his Melodies were also translated into various foreign languages. The far flung fame and popularity of the Melodies resulted in him gaining a significant income from his work.

His fame placed him in the front rank of of British Society. On the continent, renowned composers such as, Ludwig van Beethoven, Hector Berlioz and Robert Schumann produced selected arrangements of songs from the Melodies with translated text. And, perhaps Moore’s most famous song of all, ‘Tis the Last Rose of Summer became the main theme music for the opera Martha by Friedrich von Flotow which had its premiere in Vienna in 1847.

In addition to his Melodies, Moore also composed several other songs. His songs and selected other works became quite popular with singers of the period, such as the great Irish soprano, Catherine Hayes and to a lesser extent, her renowned contemporary and friend, Jenny Lind. At the very dawn of the recording industry in 1903 another great 19th century soprano Adelina Patti recorded Moore’s The Last Rose of Summer which is still available on CD today. Most of the great sopranos in history have sung this particular piece at concerts.

On the personal side, Moore was married to Elizabeth “Bessie” Dyke in 1811. Her father was from Cork and her mother was English. They had four daughters and two sons. Tragically all of their children died before the parents, which was not uncommon during the 19th century. Moore died in 1852 and his wife followed him in 1865. He’s buried at Bromham Cemetry, Wiltshire

He returned to Ireland many times throughout his life, particularly when his mother was alive.

Selected Recordings/Selected Works

Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies – The Complete Collection -

Recorded in Dublin in 2008 for the “My Gentle Harp” program celebration of the 200th anniversary of the publications of the Melodies.The Michael Balfearrangements have been used for the majority of the songs. There are a total of 139 numbers including supplements and extra tracks with numerous vocalists and piano accompanyment by Una Hunt and Mairead Hurley.
Claddagh Records 6 CD Set TMF2008 101-106 -
Dear Harp of My Country, James Flannery, Tenor, Janet Harbison, Irish Harp ESS.AY Recordings – 2 CD Set 1057/58. Includes 49 of the Melodies/Songs.

Romancing Rebellion, 1798 and the Songs of Thomas Moore- Kathleen Tynan, Soprano, Dearbhla Collins, Piano – Includes song arrangements by Beethoven, Berlioz, Stanford and others. 22 items are included in this 1 CD Set. Black Box Music CD BBM1022

Opera Martha - complete opera with German/English libretto sung by the Bavarian State Opera with soloists conducted by Robert Hager Note: The dominent music theme in the opera is based on Moore’s song, The Last Rose of Summer. EMI CD (2) Set


  • The Journal of Thomas Moore 1818-1841 by Thomas Moore – 1964
  • The Harp that Once… Tom Moore and the Regency Period by H. Mumford Jones – 1937
  • Minstrel Boy, A Portrait of Tom Moore by L. A. G. Strong – 1947
  • Leigh Hunt and Opera Criticism, by Theodore Fenner – 1972
  • Bard of Erin: The Life of Tomas Moore, by Ronan Kelly – 2008
  • Music in Britain: the Romantic Age 1800-1914 - Editor, Nicholas Temperley – 1988
  • New Grove Dictionary of Opera – Editor, Stanley Sadie – 1992
  • The Oxford Dictionary of Music – 1994

George Alexander Osborne (1806-1893),
Pianist, Composer and Teacher.

George Alexander Osborne was born in Limerick in September 1806. He died in London in November 1893. He came from a musical family. He studied music initially with his father, George W. Osborne who was the organist at the Limerick Cathedral and a teacher of piano.

During a visit to an Aunt in Brussells in 1825 he was introduced to the Prince de Chimaywho was influential in helping him become the musical instructureto the Prince of Orange. Brussels and the area know as Belgium today at that time was under Dutch rule. He also met the violinist Charles A. de Beriot during his stay in the city. Sometime later, possibly around 1826 and most probably at de Beriot’s suggestion he went to Paris to study music and the piano with Johann Pixes and Friedrich Kalkbrenner. The latter was one of the foremost teachers in Paris at the time.

While in Paris he became associated socially and professionally with such immortal musical personalities as, Hector Berlioz, Franz Liszt, Daniel Auber, Luigi Cherubini, Felix Mendelsshon and Gioachino Rossini. It was during this period that he also met the Irish musician, Michael W. Balfe who was a protoge of Rossini and studying to become a singer in Paris. The two Irishmen became lifelong friends.

He later became a close friend of the pianist, Frederic Chopin. During these years in Paris Osborne, gave concerts and played at public performances withChopin and others, always receiving excellent reviews in the musical press. At Chopin’s Paris debut in February 1832 Osborne participated along with Chopin and others in a polonaise for six pianos by Kalkbrenner.

In 1830 he had his first musical compositions published. These included selected waltzes and fantasies based on excerpts from Rossini operas. He would later do the same with some of Balfe’s operas. He also became a teacher. His most important pupil during this period was the future orchestra leader and conductor, Charles Halle.

His relationship with the composer, Hector Berlioz was particularly close and possibly he first introduced the Irish actress, Harriett Smithson to Berlioz when she was in Paris performing Shakespeare works at which Osborne assisted musically. Berlioz and Smithson afterwards married.

Musically, Osborne and de Beriot were to collaborated on many duets for piano and violin over the years, not only composing pieces together but also performing together. One of their most famous pieces was a duet arrangement from Rossini’s momumental 1829 opera, Guillame Tell. He also met the most famous singer in Europe at the time, the mezzo-soprano, Maria Malibran whom he accompanied on occasions and who eventually married de Beriot.

In 1840 Osborne married Lucy South Adams in Paris at the British Embassy. Her family was from Devon in England. They had three children—a son and two daughters. As far as it is known they were never active in the musical profession. Osborne’s wife died in London in 1858. He remarried in 1860 to a Grace Octavio who died in 1877 in London. There were no children from the second marriage.

Early in 1842, Osborne and his wife Lucy welcomed into their home the young Irish soprano, Catherine Hayes and her mother Mary Hayes, who were also from Limerick. Catherine Hayes came to Paris on the recommendation of the great basso, Luigi Lablacheto study with the eminent vocal teacher Manuel P. Garcia, the brother of Malibran and her sister also a singer, Pauline Viardot Garcia. For the next two year Catherine Hayes stayed with the Osbornes. The young soprano was destined for great fame in Italy, Britain, America and Australia. Through much of her short life and brilliant career George Alexander Osborne was her friend, he accompanied her on tours, was present at her wedding and was there at her early demise a few years later.

Osborne’s younger sister, Elizabeth “Bessie” was also in Paris studying singing with the famous tenor and teacher Giulio Bordogni around this time. Bessie later made her debut in London in the principal role in Bellini’s La Sonnambula with considerable success. After her marriage she gave up her singing career.

In 1844 with political unrest in Paris the Osbornes moved to London. In London Osborne continued his compositions. In 1847 he published perhaps his most famous work for piano, La pluie de perles (Shower of Pearls). Its fame and great popularity as a salon piece earned Osborne a significant income, both in Paris and london and no doubt elsewhere. by the 1850s osborne was much in demand for concerts in London and other places in the British Isles. Around this time he also composed two operas, Sylvia and The Forest Maiden. However, it appears that neither was ever produced.

Osborne lived a long life. During his latter years he was a director of the Philharmonic Society in London, a position he later resigned. He also became a director at the Royal Academy of Music. He stayed active musically almost up until his passing. He also made occasional visits to Dublin where he still had several friends from his early days. On one of these occasions he was elected as a member of the Royal Irish Academy of Music.

Osborne died at his home in London in November 1893. He is buried at Highgate Cemetery in London.

Selected Recordings/Selected Works

Shower of Pearls The Music of George Alexander Osborne – CD - 1 Disc
La Pluie de perles
, Valse brillante, op. 61 – piano
Ireland (Fantasia on favorite Irish airs) – piano
Sonata for piano and ‘cello in B flat major
Isabella Valse, op. 34 – piano
Evening Dew, Morceau de salon, op.90 – piano
Fantasia on Balfe’s opera The Rose of Castile – piano
Trio no. 3 in G. op. 52 in G
RTElyric CD 103 (1 Disc/12 tracks) – Una Hunt piano, Justin Pearson, cello

Fallen Leaves – from an Irish Album -includes piano music by various early Irish composers (Field, Wallace, Stanford, Cogan, Esposito, Geary, Osborne, Moran), two Osborne tracks as follows:
La Nouvelle Pluie de Perles - G. A. Osborne
Nocturne Pauline - G. A. Osborne
RTElyric – CD 109 – 16 tracks.


  • British Musical Biography- Brown & Stratton – 1889
  • Musical Coincidences and Rememberences (Paper) London 1883 – G. A. Osborne – 1883
  • Notes from CD 103 (above) by Una Hunt – 2004
  • Catherine Hayes – The Hibernian Prima Donna, by Basil Walsh – 2000
  • The Mirror of Music 1844-1944 -2 vols., by Percy A. Scholes – 1947
  • Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1450-1889), edited by Sir George Grove – 1889

Michael William Balfe (1808-1870), Singer, Composer and Conductor

Michael W. Balfe was born in Dublin in May 1808. He died at his home in Ware, Hants (outside London) in October 1870. His father, M. William Balfe was a dancing master and violinist who offered classes in Dublin and Wexford at various times of the year. Young Balfe made his first public appearance as a soloist at age nine at Dublin’s Rotunda Concert Rooms in May 1817. He later participated in other concerts at various venues in Dublin.

He had his first musical composition, a song, The Lover’s Mistake published in Dublin in December 1822.

Balfe initially studied music and the violin with his father and later with a prominent orchestra member at one of Dublin theatres. On the death of his father in January 1823 Balfe went to London where he joined the orchestra at the Theatre Royal, DruryLane. In March that year he performed a violin solo at a concert at the Theatre Royal which was conducted by the important musician, Sir George Smart. His review was generally good, focusing more on his youth and potential rather that his actual performance.

During this period his voice had matured as a baritone and ever resourceful Balfe decided to take on the operatic role of Capser in a English version of Weber’s Der Freischutz, in Norwich. It turned out to be a disaster for him because of stage fright. The experience didn’t have any lasting effects on the young musician.

In 1825 he decided to pursue a singing career in Italy. He first went to Paris for a short stay. He had the opportunity to meet the eminent musician, Luigi Cherubini who was very impressed with the young Irishamn’s talents, offering him the possibility of study. Sometime later Balfe continued on to Italy. He spent the next two years there, studying music and singing, mostly in Milan. His hopes for some success there changed when the London born, Joseph Glossop the administrator of various Royal Theatres in Milan including La Scala gave up the theatres. Somewhat frustrated, Balfe left Milan.

He returned to Paris where he contacted Cherubini who was the Director of the Conservatoire. The Italian composer introduced him to the famous composer, Gioachino Rossini who was then a resident of Paris. On Rossini’s advise Balfe took mor vocal lessons with the tenor and teacher Giulio Bordogni who was also a resident of Paris. In time, Rossini became Balfe’s mentor, enabling him to make his debut at the Italian Opera in Paris as Figaro in Rossini’s opera, Il Barbiere di Siviglia early in 1828.

During this time, Balfe shared the stage in leading roles with such immortal as, Henriette Sontag and Maria Malibran. His cosmopolitan style, language skills, (he quickly learned French and Italian) and professional music skills helped him build strong friendships throughout his lifetime.

Balfe later returned to Italy with a letter of introduction from Rossini. He spent the next seven years there singing leading baritone roles in operas by Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and others. He sang with the future great soprano Giulia Grisi at Bologna in 1829. She would become a lifelong friend. While in Bologna he was inducted into the Societa Filarmonica as a liftime member.

He also partnered with Maria Malibran in Rossini’s Otello at La Scala Milan and in Bellini’s La Sonnambula in Venice. During this period he composed and had performed three opera, in Palermo, Pavia and Milan. He also met and married Lina Roser, a young soprano of Austrian parentage who was a fine singer who had studied with one of Mozart’s sons in Milan.

Balfe and his wife and their young daughter arrived back in London in May 1835 as part of a visiting Italian troupe of singers from Milan. His initial success as a composer in London took place some months later with the premiere od his opera, The Siege of Rochelle in October 1835 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The opera ran for over 70 nights with great success. The work was an overnight sensation with its Italian style and memorable melodies.

Balfe quickly followed with a new opera, The Maid of Artois, this one was composed for his friend Maria Malibran who was visiting London at the time. It was a sensational success both artistically and financially. He continued to compose operas for London. His next big event was the opera Falstaff which was based on the Shakespeare play, The Merry Wives of Windsor. He composed it to an Italian libretto for the Italian Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. It premiiered in 1838 with four of the greatest singers of the time, Giulia Grisi, Luigi Lablache, Giovanni-Battista Rubini and Antonio Tamburini. The four were known as the “Puritani quartette” since they had premiered Bellini’s opera I Puritani in Paris in three years earlier.

However, Balfe’s real fame occurred in November 1843 at the Theatre Royal, when The Bohemian Girl premiered. It became a sensational hit, receiving over 100 performances during its first season. The Opera was seen in Dublin, New York and Philadelphia within a year. It was then translated into German having its premiere in Vienna in 1846, with Balfe conducting. It was later translated into Italian and performed in several Italian cities. The Italian version, La Zingara was also performed in London, Dublin, New York, Boston and San Francisco. French versions La Bohemienne, were produced in Rouen in 1862 and in Paris in 1869. For the next 100 years the opera swept around the world to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, America, Mexico, South Africa and continental Europe. It was also performed in many different languages. It became one of the most successful opera of the 19th century.

For seven year, Balfe was the music director at Her Majesty’s Theatre which was the home of Italian Opera in London. He directed the London premiers of various operas, including Verdi’s, Nabucco, Attila and I due Foscari. When Giuseppe Verdi first came to London to premiere a new opera, I Masnadieri in 1847 Balfe worked with him at rehersals and later took over the conducting of some of the performances.

During the period 1846-1852, Balfe as music director at the Italian Opera in London conducted more than 300 operatic performances of 43 works by various composers including one of his own, I quattro fratelli.

Balfe composed twenty-one (21) operas for London, three (3) for Paris and one each (4) for Palermo, Pavia, Milan and Trieste.

In all, over his lifetime, Balfe composed 28 operas. When his foreign language revised and augmented versions are added he actually composed forty-three (43) operas. He was the only British composer in the 19th century who was invited to compose a work, L’Etoil de Seville, for the Paris Opera— which he did quite successfully in 1845. It had fifteen performances with a stellar cast.

He also composed about 250 songs (to words by Longfellow, Wordsworth, Moore Thackeray, and others) which were published during his lifetime, along with at least eight cantatas, a number of instrumental pieces, for piano, cello, horn and violin and at least one sinfonia in 1829. Perhaps the earliest sinfonia by an Irish composer.

Balfe died at his home (which is still extant) in the town of Ware (outside London) in October 1870 after a protracted illness. He is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London.

See: for more details.

Selected Recordings/Selected Works

Falstaff - complete opera with Italian and English libretto RTE Orchestra (Dublin) condicted by Marco Zambelli with an international cast of singers.
RTE Lyric CD (2) Set No. 119

The Maid of Artois - complete opera with English libretto – 2 CD Set Orchestra with singers – Victorian Opera North -
Campion Cameo CD (2) Set – CD 2042-3

The Bohemian Girl - complete opera with English libretto – 2 CD Set - Orchestra conducted by Richard Bonynge with an international cast of singers.
Argo Records CD433 324 2 – also Decca – London) CD 473077-2

The Power of LoveBritish Opera Arias (18 total tracks with 9 tracks of Balfe arias and 9 by other composers including Wallace and Sullivan). Australian Opera Orchestra conducted by Richard Bonynge with Deborah Riedel, soprano.
Melba Records CD (1) 301082

The Sleeping Queen – operetta by Balfe. Soloists of The Opera Theatre Company (Dublin) with piano accompanyment by Una Hunt - Total time 47 minutes.
NLI CD (1) 002.

Sempre Pensoso e Torbido – cantata for mezzo-soprano and Horn – written for Maria Malibran circa 1836.
OperaRara CD (1) ORR227

Ildegonda nel Cacere – scena and aria for mezzo-soprano with orchestra conducted by Richard Bonynge.
Decca CD 475 6812

Romantics in England – Music for Cello & Piano - includes the Balfe Cello Sonata along with works by Quilter, Bainton, W. Macfarren and Coldridge-Taylor.
Dutton CD (1) Set – CDLX 7225


  • Michael W. Balfe – A Unique Victorian Composer, by Basil Walsh – 2008
  • Michael William Balfe – His Life and His English Operas, by William Tyldesley – 2003
  • English Opera from 1834 to 1864 with particular reference to the Works of Michael Balfe, by George Biddlecombe – 1994
  • Opera in Dublin 1798-1820, by T. J. Walsh
  • Music in Britain: the Romantic Age 1800-1914 - Ed. Nicholas Temperley – 1988
  • New Grove Dictionary of Opera – Editor, Stanley Sadie – 1992
  • Balfe His Life and Work, by W. A. Barrett – 1882
  • A Memoir of Michael William Balfe, by C. Lamb Kenny – 1875
  • A History of English Opera by E. W. White – 1983
  • The Rise of English Opera, by E. W. White – 1958
  • The King’s Theatre 1704-1867, London’s First Italian Opera House by Daniel Nalbach – 1972
  • Dublin University Magazine- July 1851

William Vincent Wallace (1812-1865), Composer, Pianist, Violinist & Teacher.

W. Vincent Wallace was born in Waterford, Ireland in March 1812. He died in the Pyrenees, France in September 1865. His father, William Wallace was from Ballina, Co. Mayo and his mother was from Portdarlington in Co. Laois. The father was a bandmaster attached to one of the local British regiments. The father was said to have been an excellent musician.

Young Wallace received his first music lessons from his father. He learned to play the violin and piano, becoming quite accomplished at both instruments.

The family moved to Dublin in 1825, where young Wallace became a member of a Theatre Royal Orchestra in Hawkins Street as a violinist. He also continued his music studying the piano with William Conran who was an outstanding pianist and with Haydn Corrie for the organ. Eventually in 1830 he was offered the job of organist at the Cathedral in Thurles, County Tipperary along with Professor of Music at a local Convent.

Wallace returned to Dublin some time later where he married Isabella Kelly, one of his pupils from the Convent in Thurles. He rejoined the Theatre Royal orchestra in Dublin where he sometimes took over the leadership of the orchestra.

The Theatre Royal, Dublin at the time was being managed by the London impresario Alfred Bunn who by coincidence would have an important influence on Wallace’s future musical career some years later on.

Wallace was working in the orchestra at the Theatre Royal when Nicola Paganini, the great violinist visited Dublin in 1831. Wallace was apparently astonished at the playing technique of the gifted Italian violinist. He apparently afterwards endeavored to duplicate Paganini’s technique in an effort to improve his own skills. It was some months after Paganini’s visit that Wallace first performed his own composition for violin, a concerto which was no doubt influence by the Italian violinist.

For the next 35 years Wallace’s career and life took on some bizarre twists and turns around the Globe. It is difficult to sorts fact from fiction when it comes to some of his reported personal experiences.

He first decided to live in Australia apparently looking for a better climate since he suffered from asthma. He departed Liverpool, England with his wife, Isabella in 1835 arriving in Hobart, Tasmania in October 1835. It seems that Isabella’s sister, Alice accompanied them and possibly some other family members including Vincent and Isabella’s son, said to be two years old at the time. There is also some evidence that Wallace and his sister-in-law, Alice may have had an affair during the voyage. However, generally the sparce amount of evidence relating to who was in the Wallace party on arrival in Hobart is conflicting, confusing and frequently unsupported.

During his stay in Australia Wallace organized concerts in Hobart. He traveled on to Sydney early in 1836 to find that the Govenor of New South Wales was an Irishman from Limerick, Sir Richard Bourke who became interested in the Irish composer’s work. It wasn’t long before Wallace was giving highly publicized concerts with Bourke as his principal sponsor. This activity continued for a few years, giving Wallace high visability in the community and no doubt a good income.

After a failed attempt to establish a permanent Academy of Music, in Sydney, Wallace found himself heavily in debt and with no way to repay it. In 1838, now 26 years old he departed Sydney, with little fanfare, apparently abandoning his wife and family and setting sail for Valparaiso in Chile which at that time had important Italian Opera season annually and presumabely other musical activity. On the way there he stopped off in New Zealand during which by his own account, related many years later to the French composer, Hector Berlioz, that he was almost eaten alive by cannibals!

If we are to believe Wallace’s story he eventually went on to Chile where no doubt he gave concerts as he did during most of his travels. He later traveled to Lima, Peru and then to Buenas Aires and on to Jamaica and Cuba which had extensives Italian Opera season during the 19th century. Possibly he participated in the orchestra or as a conductor. In any event by 1841 he was in Mexico City which also had Italian Opera Seasons and here he performed as a conductor. He continued on to New Orleans, Philadelphia, Boston and New York where he became involved with founding the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

Throughout this period he continually gave concerts and also probably did some teaching. He returned to Europe eventually arriving in London in 1845 where he gave a concert at the Hanover Square Concert Rooms in May of that year.

Wallace was introduced to the poet Edward Fitzball who had written various operatic librettos for other London based composers including fellow Irishman, Michael Balfe. Fitzball liked Wallace’s proposal for an opera and they set to work on what would become Wallace’s most successful work, Maritana which had its premiere at The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in November 1845. It gave Bunn an important new English opera to produce since Balfe was busy on the continent composing a new work for the prestigeous Paris Opera. Most of the critics loved the new Wallace opera comparing his outstanding musical talents to those of his successful countryman, Balfe.

Wallace next appeared in Dublin with a concert version of Maritana at the Rotunda Concert Rooms with equal success. Sometime later the composer brought the Drury Lane company to Dublin to give a full performance of Maritana, which proved to be virtually as popular as Balfe’s Bohemian Girl in terms of appeal in the English speaking world throughout the 19th century. Wallace also created and performed a German version of it for Vienna in 1848. It was also given in Hamburg in 1849 and Prague in 1851.

Meanwhile, the English language version of this popular opera was performed in places such as, New York in 1848, Sydney in 1849 New Orleans in 1876 and Cape Town in 1887, to name a few of the venues.

The score was also translated into Italian, though it does not appear that it was ever performed in Italy. However, the Italian version was given in Dublin in 1877, London 1880 and New York 1885.

Wallace composed five more operas which saw performances. None however achieved the fame and success of Maritana. In 1847 he premiered Matilda of Hungary at Drury Lane with a libretto by Alfred Bunn. The critics considered the libretto to be one of the worst ever written.

In 1849 Wallace started traveling again. What prompted this is not fully known. He first spent time in Brazil and later went to New York. While in New York he met and married a pianist, Helene Stoepel, apparentaly considering his earlier marriage null and void, because he was under age when it occurred and made to convert to Catholicism! There were two children from the second marriage. He also took out American citizenship during his stay in New York.

In 1860 his Lurline had its first performance at Coven Garden. Dublin saw it in 1861. Lurline also saw some international performances at Sydney in 1862, New York in 1869 and with an Italian libretto in New York during the same season. It achieved good success. There were several revivals of the opera in Britain at various times, the latest being in Manchester in 2009 with Richard Bonynge conducting an orchestra and an international cast. This performance was recorded with a release date expected later in 2009.

The Amber Witch his fourth opera was first produced in London in 1861, to a libretto by the critic, H. F. Chorley. It was liked by the public. However, the opera did not appear to have any staying power as it had only one revival. Although Wallace apparently considered this to be his best work. This was followed by Love’s Triumph in 1862 and The Desert Flower in 1863. The latter did have some performances in New York in 1868. Both of these works appeared to have had bad librettos which did not help.

Wallace also wrote numerous salon pieces for piano which were published, and which became very successful. These included, nocturnes, waltzes, polkas and fantasies on popular Irish and Scottish songs by Moore, Burns, etc. He also wrote a significant number of songs, probably around 50 or more. One of these, Why do I weep for thee? he composed in 1849 for the celebrated Irish soprano Catherine Hayes who was then one of the leading singers in London.

He was an outstanding pianist and violinist. He spent most of his final years in Germany and France, possibly because of his second marriage which would not have been acceptable in Britain in the 19th century, in view of the fact that he had never been divorced from his first wife who was a catholic.

In his later years Wallace suffered from eye problems to the degree that he almost went blind. In the mid 1850s he also suffer a heart attack from which he never really recovered. He eventually went to live in France . He died there in September 1865. He is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery in London.

Selected Recordings/Selected Works

Maritana - Complete opera – with English libretto – 2 CD Set with the RTE Concert Orchestra (Dublin) conducted by P. O’ Duinn with an international cast.
NAXOS – CD (2) 8.554080-1

Lurline - complete opera – with English libretto – 2 CD Set with an international cast and orchestra conducted by Richard Bonynge
Victorian Opera Northwest: - Planned release - November 2009

The Power of Love – British Opera Arias (18 total tracks with 6 tracks of arias from Wallace operas; 12 by other composers including Balfe and Sullivan).
Australian Opera Orchestra conducted by Richard Bonynge with Deborah Riedel, soprano Melba Records CD (1) 301082

The Meeting of the Waters - Celtic Fantasies for piano - selection of Wallace Irish (and Scottish) fantasies for piano including The Minstrel Boy, The Meeting of the Waters and The Last Rose of Summer – CD (1) -17 tracks.
Pianist – Rosmary Tuck
CALA CD 88042

To My Star – Celtic Romances for piano - selection of 15 romantic Wallace piano pieces including, a Waltz, Etude, Nocturne, Polka and Mazurka and perhaps one of his most famous compositions, La Cracovienne, composed in New Orleans in 1842. CD (1) – 15 tracks.
Pianist, Rosemary Tuck.
CALA CD 88044


  • Music in Britain: the Romantic Age 1800-1914 - Editor, Nicholas Temperley – 1988
  • New Grove Dictionary of Opera – Editor, Stanley Sadie – 1992
  • A History of English Opera by E. W. White – 1983
  • The Rise of English Opera, by E. W. White – 1958
  • English Opera from 1834 to 1864, by George Biddlecombe – 1994
  • Vincent Wallace – A Vagabond Composer by Robert Phelan – 1994
  • Evenings with the Orchestra (includes discussions with Wallace), by Hector Berlioz – 1973
  • Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1450-1889), edited by Sir G. Grove – 1889

Catherine Hayes (1818-1861), Soprano,

Catherine Hayes was born in Limerick in October 1818. She died at Lewisham (London surburb) in August 1861. Her father, Arthur W. Hayes was a bandmaster in the local militia. Her mother was Mary (Carroll) Hayes. The mother was a servant working in the household of the Earl of Limerick. There were two children, Henrietta who was born in 1816 and Catherine, in 1818. The father abandoned the family, for whatever reason around 1823, never to be heard of again.

Catherine was born with an innate musical talent and a beautiful soprano voice. Through a series of events she was “discovered” by the Anglican Bishop of Limerick, the Reverend Edmund Knox while singing in the Earl of Limerick’s garden. The Bishop’s palace was next door to the Earl’s home. With the Bishop’s help, Catherine took vocal and musical lessons initially in Limerick, then in Dublin with the vocal teacher and coach Antonio Sapio. With Sapio’s help a series of concerts are arranged at the Rotunda Concert Rooms in Dublin. After these events her career developed significant momentum.

One of these concerts in January 1841 features the renowned pianist Franz Liszt, then 30 years old and on his first visit to Ireland and the British Isles. Catherine shares the same stage as Liszt, singing two arias. The conductor for the occasion was the young Louis Lavenu, a London born composer and ‘cellist. Catherine and Lanvenu’s future would be intrinsically entwined professionally. Later in the year she attends her first opera, Bellini’s Norma, with the remarkable soprano Giulia Grisi in the title role. The young vocal student decides she wants to follow in Grisi’s footsteps. Sapio arranges an audition for her with his friend the great basso, Luigi Lablache who was also in the performance. Lablache recommended that she go to Paris to study with Manuel P. Garcia the eminent vocal teacher of the time.

Having gained her sponsor’s approval the young soprano and her mother arrived in Paris in October 1842. They took lodgings with the Limerick born pianist and teacher, George A. Osborne (see above) and his wife Lucy. Osborne sometime later featured her as a soloist in one of his concerts.

Shortly after arrival Catherine commenced study with the famous singing teacher, Manuel Garcia, brother of the renowned singers, Maria Malibran Garcia and Pauline Viardot Garcia. After almost two-years of study and at Garcia’s direction early in 1844, Catherine and her mother departed for Milan to meet with Felice Ronconi a member of a distinguished family of musicians for operatic coaching.

The young Irish soprano and her mother arrive in Milan at a time when the Giuseppe Verdi was emerging as the next great Italian operatic composer. Verdi’s only pupil and future assistant Emanuele Muzio also arrived in Milan around the same time as Catherine and her mother. Destiny was to link Catherine Hayes and Muzio artistically.

After concerts in the home of Giovanni Ricordi (founder of the Ricordi music publishing empire), the young soprano’s career takes off dramatically. She makes her debut at the Italian Opera in Marseilles, with first night nerves and ultimately great success. Bartolomeo Merelli, famed director of La Scala, Milan offers her a contract for his new opera season. Her fame spreads quickly— she’s in demand in Venice at the great La Fenice opera house. The well established composer, Federico Ricci and others compose operas for her to premiere at La Scala, and La Fenice.

She next traveled to Vienna— to sing her most renowned role, Lucia di Lammermoor. Her performances there are attended by Habsburg Royal family in full costume and with a large entourage at the Karntnertortheter (Royal Court Theatre). The famous soprano Jenny Lind, is also singing there at another theatre. The two singers’ paths would cross many times in the years ahead and particularly in England and America, where they became good personal friends.

Back in Milan, Catherine continues to be the star at La Scala. During this period she is paired at La Scala with a new tenor— in her most famous role, Lucia di Lammermoor. The tenor is an elegant Englishman, Sims Reeves with an exciting voice, good musical talent and a handsome presence. Their performances together at La Scala capture the headlines with rave reviews. They are the same age. It is the beginning of what would become an intimate relationship later in London and Dublin.

Giuseppe Verdi shows an interest in her for one of his new operas, I Masnadieri. However, Jenny Lind is selected and she creates the opera in London in July 1847. One month later, Catherine is coached for the opera by Verdi’s assistant, Emanuele Muzio. She creates the Italian premiere at Verona in December 1847. By now her fame has also reached London where her La Scala performances are reported on regularly in the musical press.

Early in 1848, revolutions break out in Milan and other places in Europe. La Scala shuts down for the rest of the year. Catherine and her mother leave the city for Florence where she’s engaged to sing by another important impresario, Alessandro Lanari. Sometime later in Genoa she is approached by a representative from the Royal Italian Opera, Covent Garden, London, who offers her a contract for the season.

Early in 1849 Catherine, her mother and sister arrived in London. It is their first visit ever to London. Her Limerick friend George Osborne and his wife are now living there also, because of the political unrest in Paris. She make her operatic debut at the Royal Italian Opera at Covent Garden with much success. Later in the year she performs at Buckingham Palace for Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and 500 guests, along with a small group of leading Italian singers. She is greatly applauded and after a evening of Italian operatic arias and duets she is asked for an encore by the Queen— the young Irish soprano obliges with a song, Kathleen Mavourneen. The next day the Queen records in her diary how pleased she was with the young singers performance.!

Catherine returned to Dublin in November 1849 to perform in Lucia di Lammermoor and other roles. She was greatly praised by the critics. During this time In Ireland she also performance in opera in her home town of Limerick and in Cork— to sold out houses. For the next two years Catherine performes in opera and in concerts throughout Britain and in Ireland. In 1851 she was invited to Rome to sing in Donizetti and Bellini operas there. Her performances caused such a furore that in recognition she was awarded a Diploma from the Academy of Santa Cecilia, in Rome— a very special honor. Catherine afterwards returned to London to take up her concert schedule.

In September 1852 she departed for New York. Her mother and sister and a small party of singers accompanied her along with her friend, Louis Lavenu as music director. For the next two years Catherine travels up and down the east coast of America giving concerts from New York to Montreal, from Boston to New Orleans. She travels on the Mississippi River Boats performing in the river town along the way from Baton Rouge up to Cincinnati and on to St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh and back to upstate New York for more concerts in Buffalo and Toronto.

On her return to New York city she met a young American, William Avery Bushnell who worked for the great American showman, P. T. Banrnum and who has assisted with the management of Jenny Lind’s tour of America the previous year.

Bushnell takes on the role of Manager of the Hayes group, setting up a tour of California under the management of P. T. Barnum. The group arrives in San Francisco in November 1852, having traveled there via Panama. After several concerts in San Francisco, she travels to the gold fields and sings concerts for the diggers, many of whom are Irish. She is a sensation, so much so that tickets to her concerts are put up for auction by Bushnell and individuals bid as high as $1100 for a choice seat. She later travels to Lima, Peru where she sing with a visiting Italian opera troupe after which she goes to Santiago in Chile for concerts. Her mother, Bushnell and others travel with her. She returns to San Francisco many months later to give more performances.

Throughout these years Catherine Hayes always included the songs of Thomas Moore in her concerts along with operatic arias. However, it was the song, Kathleen Mavourneen by Frederick Crouch that became her signature piece.

In July 1854 she traveled to Australia stopping in Hawaii (Sandwich Islands) for a concert. In Honolulu her concert was attended by King Kamehameha of Hawaii who said that he wasvery impressed by this “strange singing lady.”

Her arrival in Sydney is hearlded with great emotion. She is the first important European opera star to visit the remote colony. Over the next two years she sings in opera and concerts in Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide before traveling to Calcutta in India, where she entertains members of the British Army (many of whom are Irish) and their wives. She next goes to Singapore and Java. Returning in June 1855 to Melbourne and Sydney she continues with more performances. She also visits the gold fields in Bendigo before going on to Tasmania for concerts.

In August 1856 Catherine returns to Britain, a very rich woman of 38 years having traveled around the world in pursuit of her career. She is accompanied by her mother and William A. Bushnell, her manager. Later in the year she completes a concert tour of Britain and Ireland, after which she appeared in opera in Dublin, Limerick and Cork. She and Bushnell marry in October 1857 in the fashionable St. George’s Church in Hanover Square, with her sister, mother and the Osbornes present.

A year later Bushnell died while they are in Biarritz, France. Catherine eventually goes back to singing. For the next two years she did a concert tour of Britain and Ireland. In August 1861 she suffered a stroke and died a few days later at the age of 42. Her mother and sister were at her bedside. She is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery in London.

Catherine Hayes’ career was remarkable in many ways. She was not only the first Irish woman to become famous as an opera singer but she in effect became Ireland’s first Ambassador as everywhere she went around the world in the mide 19th century she sang Irish songs as part of her concert programs. The critics in Milan, Rome, London, Dublin, Belfast and throughout America, Canada and Australia loved her. She rarely received a bad review. On hearing of her death newspapers in Italy, Britain, Ireland, America and Australia ran extensive obituaries about her great loss.

Selected Recording

Unfortunately there are no recordings of Catherine Hayes’ voice as she lived long before recordings were first invented in the 1890’s.

Another Limerick born soprano Suzanne Murphy of the 20th century has recorded some of the songs that Catherine Hayes sang, including, Kathleen Mavourneen and The Last Rose of Summer along with 18 other classical Irish songs.

There is an Isle – Suzanne Murphy, soprano - CD(1) 00000?

Historic: Adelina Patti - sings, Kathleen Mavourneen and The Last Rose of Summer and 14 other songs and arias recorded in 1905 – when Patti was 62 years old. This is a very primitative recording.
Pearl GEMM CD 9312 (1)

Selected Bibliography

  • Catherine Hayes – The Hibernian Prima Donna, by Basil Walsh – 2000
  • Queens of Song – Celebrated Female Vocalists, by Ellen Creathorne Clayton – 1858
  • New Grove Dictionary of Opera – Editor, Stanley Sadie -1992
  • Dublin University Magazine - November 1850
  • Sims Reeves – Fifty Years of Music in England, by Charles E. Pearce – 1924
  • My Jubilee: Fifty Years of Singing, by Sims Reeves – 1889
  • Struggles and Triumphs: Forty Years of Recollections, by P. T. Barnum – 1873
  • Entertaining Australia, by Katherine Brisbane – 1991
  • Verdi and His Major Contemporaries, by Thomas G. Kaufman – 1990
  • The Irish in New Orleans, by Earl F. Niehaus – 1965
  • The Irish Sketch Book, by William M. Thackeray – 1860


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