Ireland Commemorates Wallace Bicentenary

Ireland William Vincent Wallace: National Concert Hall, Dublin, Ireland 15.10.2012, (RJW) a) Recital Chopinesque by Rosemary Tuck, piano b) One of our best and most original of Native Composers Illustrated Lecture, Dr David Grant c) Wallace the American and the Music Album of 1854 Illustrated Lecture, Peter Jaggard d) Launch of the W V Wallace Music Album, Reception Úna Hunt, Simon Taylor e) Gala Concert by Úna Hunt & Rosemary Tuck with Máire Flavin (soprano) and Matthew Sprange (baritone)

W.V. Wallace; photo credit:Friends of Wallace

On Monday, 15th October 2012, Dublin staged a rare event – a day of music with recital, concert and talks in celebration of the Irish composer William Vincent Wallace (1812-1865). Unfairly neglected by the establishment, Wallace left a fine legacy of music to match that of his contemporaries both in quality and quantity. This Dublin Festival Day neatly ties in with a three programme radio documentary series, The Road to Maritana on RTÉ’s Lyric FM. It coincided with the launch of a facsimile of a rare Music Album which Wallace had published when he was living in America. The Festival is the result of a tireless campaigner, Úna Hunt, who assembled and presented the three hours of radio programmes as well as the Festival day programming.

Recital: Chopinesque by Rosemary Tuck, piano

The afternoon started with a warm welcome from Úna Hunt (who has long promoted the Irish composers, Balfe, Field, O’Dwyer, Osborne, Stanford & Wallace). Rosemary Tuck opened the Festival with a piano recital based on the pieces she used for her latest Naxos CD, Chopinesque, [8.572776]. This was certainly an apt title for the style of music presented. (See Musicweb review at- for contents).

Tuck’s heart-rendering performance was both inviting and spectacular. Use of a Concert Grand Steinway and enhanced by the acoustics of the Concert Hall’s John Field Room she enthralled us with added bloom to the music. We recognise at once the writings of a virtuosic composer, where heavily decorated melody lines and dramatic scales provide a myriad of intoxicating pictures. We become aware of his use of fascinating rhythms liberally sprinkled through many of the pieces. Wallace’s music contains much light and shade and amazing contrasts when moving from an easily assimilated theme into complex variations. The joy of intertwined cascading scales was an absolute delight to the ear. This hour-long performance left the audience hungry for the events that were to follow.

Illustrated Lecture: Dr David Grant

A lot of the background to the composer’s life and travels has been previously shrouded in mystery and early biographies have been unreliable. Much of the unravelling has been done in recent years by Messrs Grant and Jaggard and their findings were covered in the talks.

David Grant painted a broad canvas concerning the development of Wallace’s career from his Waterford and Ballina roots. He learnt his skills through exposure to readily available instruments from his army bandmaster father; he deputised for the leader in Dublin’s Theatre Royal orchestra, worked as organist at Waterford and Thurles from the age of sixteen, and this culminated in his concert successes in Australia and the Americas. The talk focused principally on Wallace’s most famous opera, Maritana (1845), which is likely to have picked up its Spanish colours from his sojourns in Mexico city. Musical excerpts were played from this and Lurline, the opera that followed. It was particularly interesting to have the music to Wallace’s well known, ‘Alas, those chimes’ analysed before our eyes to help us appreciate the excellence of composition.

Illustrated Lecture: Peter Jaggard

Peter Jaggard’s talk focused on Wallace’s travels in America, details of his American family and descendents in a previously unseen family photograph, and the growing and lucrative relationship with his publisher, Wm Hall. A prolific output of sheet music songs culminated in the publication of a lavishly-illustrated drawing room album ‘Dedicated to the Ladies of America’. We heard a selection of the pieces that became very popular at the time and this set the scene for the subject of the Reception as well as the first part of the evening concert.

Reception and launch of W V Wallace’s American Album

About ninety were gathered for a generous Reception, sponsored by the Australian Embassy, a country where Wallace first embraced fame. The occasion opened with an informative talk by Úna Hunt giving a clear account of the life of the composer and his work in bringing out the Album, dedicated to the Ladies of America.

Two establishment figures, Simon Taylor and Prof. Harry White, followed the opening address. Harry White is Professor of Music at University College Dublin, Fellow of the Royal Irish Academy of Music and Member of the Royal Irish Academy. Simon Taylor is notable for his RTÉ background and his current role as Chief Executive of the Concert Hall who has unstintingly given his support to Úna Hunt in bringing about this special festival occasion based in Dublin.

Between them, they spoke up for Wallace’s sad neglect and gave encouragement for a renewal of interest in the composer in relation to Irish/British heritage.

The Album is on sale at €50, available from the National Concert Hall, Earlesfort Terrace, Dublin, Ireland or Úna Hunt at-

Evening concert

Part Iwas devoted to the music found in the American Album. The piano pieces were exquisitely played by Úna Hunt: we could appreciate that the variety of styles Wallace provides are associated with the colours of the many countries he visited.

Master of ceremonies, Eamonn Lawlor, a presenter on RTÉ’s Lyric FM, provided meaningful links between the pieces, and spoke impressively about the composer without notes and from the heart.

Part IIopened with the Grand duo pour deux pianos sur l’opéra d’Halévy L’éclair, a rare work for four hands which would have been written for performance by Vincent Wallace and his partner Hélène Stoepel. The 14 minute piece is fascinatingly flamboyant and was brilliantly played by Úna Hunt and Rosemary Tuck with the energy and fire the work demands. The pianists’ anticipation of timing was excellent. Their joint attention to dynamics was most effective and this allowed us to savour the melody lines afresh when revisited at a later place in the music.

The ballads and arias which followed were taken from the operas, Maritana, Lurline, plus an absolute rarity, Matilda. These were magnificently sung by two excellent singers, Máire Flavin and Matthew Sprange. They performed with warm and endearing qualities, and provided expressive diction. The accompaniment by Úna Hunt was sensitive and supportive.

Thanks must go to RTÉ for remembering one of Ireland’s important 19th Century composers. Starved of this genre of delightful music in the UK we all appreciated that in 2008 the organisation also marked the bicentenary of Michael William Balfe, a gesture for which we are all grateful. Since much of Wallace’s music was once heard in London’s Hanover Rooms and Covent Garden we live in hope that this genre of music will cross the Irish Sea and be heard in the UK once again.

  Raymond J Walker