About this Recording
8.572775 - WALLACE, W.V.: Celtic Fantasies (Tuck, Bonynge)
English 

William Vincent Wallace (1812–1865)
Celtic Fantasies

 

The Irish composer William Vincent Wallace rose from humble beginnings to become one of the most famous musicians of his day. In 1831, he heard the great violinist Paganini and determined to become a virtuoso himself, on the piano as well as the violin. By 1835 the young musician felt ready to take the stage, but aware that there would be too much competing talent in Europe, he took the bold decision to sail to Australia. It proved to be a journey worth making; during his twoyear stay, he gained a lasting reputation as the first musician of quality to visit the colony, giving over twenty concerts and establishing not only Australia’s first musical academy but also its first music festival. Sailing on from Sydney, Wallace crossed the Pacific to Valparaiso, travelling on for the next two years through Chile, Peru, Jamaica, Cuba and Mexico, surviving earthquakes, pitched battles and revolution on the way. In May 1842 he arrived in New Orleans and created such a sensation at his first concert that the musical city took him to its heart. The following year he found even greater success in New York, both as a performer and now as a published composer.

Making his début as a pianist/composer in London in May 1845, Wallace was soon after commissioned to write an opera for Drury Lane theatre. The result was Maritana (Naxos 8.660308–09), an immediate and popular success that made his reputation overnight. A second opera, Matilda, followed in 1847, but the vogue for English opera was now on the wane and with no prospect of further operatic success in England, he returned to the New world, where he was able to make a good living from his popular piano and vocal compositions. After gaining American citizenship in 1854 (thus securing his copyright on both sides of the Atlantic), he twice visited Europe to promote his operas, but without success. In 1857 the formation of an English Opera company in London prompted Wallace to move back to England and in March 1860 his third opera Lurline (Naxos 8.660293–94) was performed at Covent Garden. An immediate hit, Lurline ran for many nights over two seasons, but soon, once again, the taste for English opera declined. Wallace’s last three operas, The Amber Witch (1861), Love’s Triumph (1862), and The Desert Flower (1863), played to poor houses and the composer moved on to Paris, where he made a last vain attempt to stage his operas. By now Wallace’s health had broken down and he died, aged only 53, on the 12th October 1865.

Wallace published over fifty piano works inspired by Irish and Scottish traditional music, around a quarter of his entire opus for that instrument. A proud Celt himself, with strong musical roots, the composer was the son of a bandsman in the North Mayo Militia. From the ages of four to fourteen he grew up in his father’s hometown of Ballina, Co. Mayo, in the remote North West. This region boasted a strong musical culture, the Irish tradition enriched by the musical legacy of the Scots who had settled there two centuries earlier. Many relatives were talented musicians—a cousin, Michael Wallace, being a renowned performer on the Uillieann pipes—and the future composer would have known and performed this music since childhood. During his years as a travelling virtuoso, Wallace would often weave these remembered melodies into his improvisations, delighting the expatriate Scots and Irish listeners as well as those of English stock. These traditional melodies, published as songs adorned with memorable poetry by the likes of Robert Burns and Thomas Moore had gained great popularity throughout the English-speaking world and beyond.

Wallace produced his first sets of arrangements of popular Scottish and Irish melodies in 1848. Clearly aimed at the lucrative domestic market—many of these works are within the scope of the talented amateur—they offered a new perspective on this material. With Wallace’s dramatic imagination and mastery of the sonorities and dynamic range of the piano, they proved a popular and critical success, an early review stating that,

“His treatment of these favourite airs has all the effect of originality; and is at the same time so attractive, so novel, so brilliant and facile, that there is now scarcely found a pianoforte desk without them.”

More of these “arrangements” appeared at a steady pace until the penultimate year of his life. Wallace took pains with these fantasies and they all have the vigour of original compositions. The composer’s welldocumented skills of extemporisation are much in evidence as he takes his thematic material on dramatically imaginative voyages. Never treating the melodies in a sentimental manner, Wallace enhances them with his compositional magic.

[1] The Yellow Hair’d Laddie and Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad (1848)

A short introduction leads to the first theme, tenderly presented. Two variations follow, the first with scale accompaniment, the second with arpeggios. Two glissandi lead straight into a rollicking dance.

[2] Brilliant Fantasia on My Nanny, O! and My Ain Kind Dearie and Bonnie Dundee (1856)

In this Brilliant Fantasia, the first two melodies are enhanced with inventive development sections, all leading to a stirring rendition of Bonnie Dundee, resplendent with hunting horns.

[3] The Gloomy Night is Gathering Fast and The Lass o’ Gowrie (1857)

A bright introduction swiftly modulates to a minor key and we are plunged into The Gloomy Night, presented here in the form of a funeral march. The light returns with The Lass o’ Gowrie and a sparkling finale.

[4] Go Where the Glory Waits Thee and Love’s Young Dream (1849)

The little section linking these Irish melodies quotes a motif from the love duet from Wallace’s opera Maritana.

[5] When Ye Gang Awa’ Jamie (1864)

The song is a duet between Jamie and his lover. After a verse each for the lovers, comes a passionate development section. The two verses are repeated before all ends happily, when Jamie reveals himself as the rich lord of Huntingtower.

[6] The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls and Fly Not Yet (1849)

Harp-like arpeggios lead us to Tara’s Halls. This famous melody is followed by the lively old Irish dance better known as Planxty Kelly.

[7] Desmond’s Song (1849)

Desmond’s song tells of a man who renounces power and wealth to marry the woman he loves and finding a greater happiness. The melody is followed by three variations, leading to an ecstatic coda.

[8] Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms and An Irish Melody (1849)

The first melody leads to a virtuosic cadenza-like movement that unexpectedly propels us into the dancing finale.

[9] The Blue Bells of Scotland (1848)

This famous song is given some dazzling variations and a sumptuous coda.

[10] Fantaisie brillante de Salon pour piano sur des Melodies Ecossaises Roy’s Wife and We’re a’ Noddin’ (1858)

After an extended introduction using original melodic material we are briefly acquainted with Roy’s wife before being treated to some ebullient variations on We’re a’ Noddin’.

[11] John Anderson My Jo and Thou Hast Left Me Forever, Jamie (1858)

Two plaintive melodies and a wild ending.

[12] The Weary Pund o’ Tow and There’s Nae Luck About This House (1859)

Wallace’s treatment of There’s Nae Luck About This House is full of fun—a battery of instruments are conjured up here: flute and bagpipes amongst them. Revelling in contrast and the occasional discord, they are reminiscent of the future works of Percy Grainger.

[13] Flow On, Thou Shining River and Nora Creina (1856)

The river flows on to a vivid and earthy rendition of Nora Creina, complete with unexpected flattened sevenths.

[14] Maggie Lauder (1862)

Maggie’s lively dance is enhanced by a playful development section, packed with humour and including a hint of J.S. Bach.

[15] Rondino on the Scotch Melody Bonnie Prince Charlie (1862)

This rondino is based upon a popular song by James Hogg.

[16] Kinloch of Kinloch and I’m O’er Young to Marry Yet (1858)

Kinloch of Kinloch shares its melody with the famous Northumbrian song Blow the Wind Southerly.

[17] Scots Wha Hae (1848)

The composer gave free range to his imagination in this homage to his illustrious Scottish namesake. The theme is followed by four variations, the third being in the form of a noble funeral march.

[18] Home Sweet Home - Ballade (1857)

Bishop’s Home Sweet Home was a great Victorian favourite. Wallace eschews sentimentality in his arrangement; the melody presented with strength and grandeur in a series of variations before gently fading away.

[19] Ye Banks and Braes (1850)

One of the most popular of Robert Burn’s settings, Wallace’s arrangement for four hands gives added depth and intensity to his original solo version of this song.

[20] Auld Robin Gray and The Boatie Rows (1857)

The melody of Auld Robin Gray written by a Somerset clergyman in the eighteenth century soon entered the canon of “Scottish” song. This fine melody, followed by a flamboyant variation, leads to a rousing and strikingly original treatment of The Boatie Rows.


Peter Jaggard


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