William Vincent Wallace: Music Album 1854 (limited edition)
Úna Hunt and Peter Jaggard
Published by RTE, Dublin, Ireland
Bar code: 5 391507 330666; €55
What could be a nicer way of celebrating the bicentenary of an important yet forgotten composer than to bring out a handsome facsimile of an Album of Music (with CD) originally published in 1854 to commemorate this Irish composer’s achievements.
William Vincent Wallace was a worldwide traveller. As an accomplished virtuoso pianist and violinist he became an overnight celebrity in the cities he visited. He first emigrated to Australia where he was celebrated as the Australian Paganini and from there travelled to the Americas, with memorable performances in Mexico City, New Orleans and New York. Wallace was particularly successful in North America that he spent a considerable time and became an American citizen even. It was later that he became known in London and Europe for his operatic works.
The period of the compositions in this Album marks out his association with the New York publisher, Wm Hall & Co. with whom he struck up a special relationship in helping to promote their piano sales. Five years of lucrative sheet music deals paved the way for the release of an ambitious gift album for the 1853 Christmas season. Hall and Wallace considered that an elegant volume would be ideal to grace the drawing rooms of society Americans. The existence of this Album may well have given George Grove an idea (18 years later) that such a volume could promote the young Arthur Sullivan by wedding his music to lyrics by the Poet Laureate, Tennyson and made decorative by elaborate artwork from John Millais. Of this Wallace volume that lies in the National Library of Ireland it is known that only a few copies crossed the Atlantic. It is rarely found in Britain, hence the interest of this facsimile publication.
Of the pieces, six are vocal, two are dances and two are for piano alone. The complexity of this Album’s music is moderately difficult for some pieces and somewhat lighter for others. The pitching of complexity must have been finely tuned by Wallace to maximise sales and so we can assume that society ladies in American cities of this period were probably accomplished pianists. Consequently, one envisages the pieces being played more on a drawing room grand in a fine 19th century New York villa than on a parlour upright in a suburban dwelling. Certainly, this volume with its fine presentation was intended to be the ‘coffee table’ status signature of the time.
The Seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter (vocal)
Say my Heart can this be Love? (ballad)
Sisters of Mercy (vocal trio)
T’is the Harp in the Air
La Pluie d’Or (Valse)
The Village Festival, Schottishe (polka)
The Seasons pieces are prefaced with fine colour lithographs supplied by Sarony & Major, a printing form new at the time that had arrived in New York from Germany. Five of the six vocal pieces contain lyrics by critic, Henry Cood Watson, son of Londoner, John Watson. The romance, ‘’T’is the Harp in the Air’ is a fresh non-vocal setting from Wallace’s opera, Maritana (1845) set in the same key.
The book has an informative introduction by Richard Bonynge and eight pages of notes by Peter Jaggard. His very interesting commentary on Wallace the composer and background to the Album’s pieces are clearly the result of recent research. I was interested to hear that the two dances were very popular in 1854 and that ‘Sisters of Mercy’ may well have been taken from an unknown opera because it has lyrics by Fitzball. We have long heard that Wallace might have composed a lost opera, The Maid of Zurich, and this might well be the opera Fitzball loosely refers to in his Memoirs.
A nice touch to this publication is that it comes with a CD. Usefully, pianist Una Hunt has recorded all tracks in a charming recording to help those who don’t play. The songs are sung by Máire Flavin and the RIAM Vocal Trio. This addition completes the picture of how the music would have been received by the Ladies of America, to whom the Album is dedicated. I can see that American collectors today will be very keen to get hold of a copy of this limited edition.
Raymond J Walker
What could be a nicer way of celebrating the bicentenary of this important yet forgotten composer.
1. The book can be easily obtained from the RTÉ shop in Dublin, Ireland and conversion of currency will not be a problem. See their site.
2. I also reviewed the Wallace commemoration day in Dublin on 15 October 2012.