Wallace, William Vincent (DNB00)
WALLACE, WILLIAM VINCENT (1813–1865), musical composer, was born at Waterford on 1 July 1813, his father, a Scot, being bandmaster of the 29th regiment and a bassoon-player in the orchestra of the Theatre Royal, Dublin, in which his sons Wellington and Vincent played the second flute and violin respectively. While still quite a lad Vincent Wallace was a masterly player on the pianoforte, clarinet, guitar, and violin. At sixteen years of age he was organist of Thurles Cathedral for a short time (Musical World, 1865, p. 656), and appeared as violinist in a public concert at Dublin in June 1829, and in 1831 at a musical festival there, where he heard Paganini. He was also leader of the Dublin concerts, and played a violin concerto of his own at a Dublin concert in May 1834. In 1834 he began to weary of the limited musical possibilities of the Irish capital, married a daughter of Kelly of Blackrock, and in August 1835 set out for Australia. There he went straight into the bush, devoted some attention to sheep-farming, and practically abandoned music. He also separated from his wife, whom he never saw again. Once when visiting Sydney he attended an evening party, took part casually in a performance of a quartette by Mozart, and so captivated his audience that the governor, Sir John Burke, induced him to give a concert, he himself contributing a present of a hundred sheep by way of payment for his seats.
Then Wallace began his wanderings, an account of part of which Berlioz tells in the second epilogue of his ‘Soirées de l'Orchestre’ (Paris, 1884, p. 413). He visited Tasmania and New Zealand, where he narrowly escaped assassination at the hands of savages, from whom he was saved under romantic circumstances by the chief's daughter. While on a whaling cruise in the South Seas on the Good Intent, the crew of semi-savage New Zealanders mutinied and murdered all the Europeans but three, of whom Wallace was one. Proceeding to India, Wallace was highly honoured by the begum of Oude, and, after wandering there some time and visiting Nepal and Kashmir, he went to Valparaiso at a day's notice, crossed the Andes on a mule, and visited Buenos Ayres; thence to Santiago, where among the receipts of a concert he gave were some gamecocks. For a concert at Lima he realised 1,000l. In Mexico he wrote a ‘Grand Mass’ for a musical fête, which was many times repeated. He invested his considerable savings in pianoforte and tobacco factories in America, which became bankrupt.
In 1845 he was back in London, where at the Hanover Square Rooms he made his English début as a pianist on 3 May (Musical World, 1845, p. 215). In London he renewed his acquaintance with Heyward St. Leger, an old Dublin friend, who introduced him to Fitzball, the result being the opera ‘Maritana,’ produced with rare success at Drury Lane on 15 Nov. 1845. ‘Matilda of Hungary’ followed in 1847 with one of the worst librettos in existence, by Alfred Bunn [q. v.] Wallace then went to Germany, with a keen desire to make his name known there, and there he wrote a great deal of pianoforte music. From overwork on a commission to write an opera for the Grand Opéra at Paris, he became almost blind, and to obtain relief he went a voyage to the Americas, where he gave many concerts with good success.
In 1853 he returned to England, and on 23 Feb. 1860 ‘Lurline’ was produced under Pyne and Harrison at Covent Garden, with a success surpassing that of ‘Maritana.’ On 28 Feb. 1861 his ‘Amber Witch’ was brought out at Her Majesty's, an opera which Wallace deemed his best work, and was followed in 1862 and 1863 by ‘Love's Triumph’ (Covent Garden, 3 Nov.) and ‘The Desert Flower’ (Covent Garden, 12 Oct.) His last work was an unfinished opera called ‘Estrella.’ He died at Château de Bagen, in the Pyrenees, on 12 Oct. 1865 (and was buried at Kensal Green on 23 Oct.), leaving a widow (née Hélène Stoepel, a pianist) and two children in indigent circumstances.
Wallace was a good pianist, and a linguist of considerable attainments. The list of his compositions fills upwards of a hundred pages of the ‘British Museum Catalogue.’[Authorities quoted in the text; American Cyclopædia of Music and Musicians, the article in which is by a personal friend of Wallace; Pougin's William Vincent Wallace: Étude Biographique et Critique, Paris, 1866; Athenæum, 1865, p. 542; Choir and Musical Record, 1865, p. 75, where Rimbault errs in most of his dates; Musical World, 1865, p. 656, art. written by a fellow traveller of Wallace; Musical Opinion, 1888, p. 64 (which quotes an article by Dr. Spark from the Yorkshire Post); Grove's Dict. of Music and Musicians; manuscript Life of Wallace by W. H. Grattan Flood; a condensed list of Wallace's compositions is given in Stratton and Brown's British Musical Biography.]