Michael William Balfe

Balfe, Michael William, a musician and a composer, born at 10, Pitt-street, Dublin, 15th May 1808, was one of the first Irishmen of modern times whose talent as a composer has been widely acknowledged, and whose works have been performed throughout the Continent. When he was seven years of age, the master of a military band at Wexford, where his father was then residing, was attracted by his aptitude, and gave him lessons on the violin. After six months' tuition, Balfe wrote a polacca for his instructor's band. Receiving further tuition under O'Rourke in Dublin, he appeared as a violinist in a concert at the Exchange, in May 1816, and became a small celebrity as a composer, singer, and violinist.

At sixteen his father died, and he removed to London, supporting himself by performing in the orchestra at Drury-lane, and continuing his musical studies. In 1825 a Russian Count, Mezzara, was so charmed with his talents and touched by his like ness to a deceased son, that he took Balfe to Italy at his own expense, to continue his studies. This lasted about a year, at the expiration of which he was thrown on his own resources. In 1828 he appeared as "Balfi," in Paris, in the Barbiere di Seviglia, and did himself much credit by some compositions. For the next seven years he continued his career in Italy — composing I Rivali and other operas, singing with Malibran at the Scala in Milan, and falling in love with, and marrying a German singer, Mdlle. Rosen. In the Spring of 1835, returning to London, he was soon established as a popular composer.

"The Light of Other Days," from his Maid of Artois, was at one time among the most favourite songs in the language. His success may now be said to have been complete, and he delighted the public by the constant production of new works. In 1843, his best known opera, The Bohemian Girl, since arranged for performance in almost every European language, was brought out at Drury-lane. From 1845 to 1852 he occupied the post of conductor in Her Majesty's Theatre, London. In this last year he visited St. Petersburg, where he was feted, and made large sums of money. He then travelled to other parts of the Continent, and in 1856 returned to England and introduced his daughter as a singer at the Royal Italian Opera in London. Balfe wrote altogether about thirty operas. Perhaps Il Talismano is the best.

The latter part of his life was spent at Rowney Abbey, Herts. There he died of congestion of the lungs, on the 20th October 1870, aged 62. He possessed "in a high degree the qualifications that make a natural musician, viz., quickness of ear, readiness of memory, executive faculty, almost unlimited and ceaseless fluency of invention, with a felicitous power of producing striking melodies;" but there was "a want of conscientiousness, which made him contented with the first idea that presented itself, regardless of dramatic truth, and considerate of momentary effect rather than artistic excellence." Balfe's second daughter, Victoria, after a short artistic career, married Sir John Crampton, British ambassador at St. Petersburg, and after procuring a divorce from him, the Duke de Frias, a Spanish nobleman.


18. Balfe, Michael William, Memoir: C. L. Kenney. London, 1875.

250. Musiciens, Biographie Universelle des: F. J. Fetis. 8 vols. Paris, 1860-'5.