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
see also a review
of the Wallace commemoration day in Dublin (15 October 2012)