The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (197): That Irish kiss

The Irish composer Michael William Balfe (1808-1870) is remembered for his opera The Bohemian Girl, with its hints of forbidden pleasures.

Oh, and maybe this one, too.

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  • Balfe operas get mentioned quite a lot in Joyce’s Ulysses, for example, in the Aeolus episode, Lenehan answers his own riddle, “What opera is like a railway line?”, with “The Rose of Castille.

    I recall hearing I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls sung by Margaret Burke Sheridan on an old wind up gramophone, in my grandparents house in Leeson street in Dublin many years ago.

    I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls is performed by Rionach Mc Glinchey a young Irish Soprano and accompanied by Ben Mc Gonigle.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_ibPuY5GgY

  • Listening to (and just as importantly, watching) that charming Jessye Norman video got me to thinking of the repertoire of pieces that in my youth were already regarded as tiresome warhorses to be avoided, and likewise their composers. “I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls” is one of them, a work I knew as a violin piece yet you’d also hear it sung, or played as an orchestral work on “light classical” radio broadcasts, so I very snobbishly never played it again once that lesson was over. It was beneath me. Wasn’t I the grand one.

    Yet now it has been decades since I heard it (and I think that was on an Enya CD, if you remember her, or maybe it was Sissel the Norwegian soprano) or even thought of it and I have to think there is now a generation, or two generations, for whom this lovely tune is a first hearing. I suspect even fewer have heard Balfe’s “Come into the garden, Maud.”

    Balfe had a gift, perhaps a limited one, but a gift. I wonder if it can really be that his other music is not worth pulling off the shelf where it has gotten so dusty.

  • By chance Balfe’s Bohemian Girl was the first opera I saw on stag,e by a traveling troupe in my town when I was a boy. I haven’t been able to get “I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls” quite out of my ears. To lower raised eyebrows, the next three were Faust, , Tosca, and the Elixir of Love by the Met, also on tour; then Freischuetz, Cosi, and Tristan in Frankfurt with Solti et alia; the Dutchman in Heidelberg, and the Ring in Bayreuth.

    What else can the Irish contingent impart about Michael Balfe? Is his name really pronounced “Bolf”? Did he write anything else? And is there no end to these questions? I could look him up but appeal to their Celtic instinct which I in part share,, vast knowledge, and communicative gift.

    • Balfe is pronounced as in Baalfe, not Bolf! Yes he composed a whole pile of operas not known today, a cantata and a piano trio, Bohemian Girl was his best hit.

  • thanks Norman for this charming glimpse of a dimpled Jerry Hadley, a super talented tenor whose life was darkened by disappointment and depression. Depression is a topic rarely discussed in classical music, a field in which artists to prove their worth must step out in front of thousands of people who do not necessarily wish them well.

    • Quite so Manuela. Such a lovely voice and such a tragic life, cut short by his own hand after separating from his wife. His loss was just as great as that of another of my heroes who also died tragically young – Fritz Wunderlich.

  • There are seven melodies by Balfe at the back of the brass player’s bible, Arban’s Complete Method. Lovely melodies!

  • Many thanks to Susan Bradley’s mention of Arban, Doc Martin’s ever informative and helpful post, and a shout-out to Manuela Hoelterhoff, whose delightful writing and criticism could light up even the pages of “The Wall Street Journal”. Good to see yoou here.

  • James Joyce was qualified to write 0f vocal matters. He once took tsecond prize in an Irish singing competition that another time was won by John McCormack, before he as a Count.

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