Monday, May 15, 2017

Born Today May 15: Michael William Balfe (Not So Silent Edition)


Irish composer Michael William Balfe was born on this day in Dublin.  He showed extreme musical talent at a very early age; in fact, by the time he was just 7, he had already composed a polish style dance.  Also by this time, he was playing violin for his father's dancing class business.  He made his public musical debut at the age of 9 on the violin and had also composed a ballad entitled "Young Fanny." His father died in 1823, so the teenager moved by himself to London, England.  He was then hired as a violinist by the orchestra of the Theater Royal in Drury Lane.  While continuing in that capacity, he also attempted to make a career for himself as an opera singer--a venture that failed.  In 1825, a member of the aristocracy arranged for him to travel to Italy for music and voice lessons.  While there, he was introduced to Italian composer Luigi Cherubini; through him, he wound up as an protege of Rossini.  It was at this time that he started to take up composing seriously.  By 1835, he was back in London--where his light opera's began to bring him success after several well thought of performances in Drury Lane.  In 1841, he founded the National Opera at the Lyceum Theater, but it was doomed to fail.  After this failure, he and his young family moved to Paris, France; and though several performances of his works were successfully staged there, by the end of the year the family was back in London.  Upon his return, he successfully staged a production of the work that he is most well known for today The Bohemian Girl.  It ran, to packed houses, for over 100 nights and inspired productions to be staged in a number of other countries as well.  In 1846, he was appointed musical director and conductor for the Italian Opera at Her Majesty's Theater.  He also composed special pieces for the 1851 Great International Exhibition that was set to take place in London.  He retired in 1864.  In all he had composed around 30 operas, several cantatas and one symphony.  The first time a film was made using his music came with the extremely early sound The Heart Bowed Down, dating from 1906; this little film used Chronophone system--the film was produced by the Gaumont British Picture Corp. and was named for one of Balfe's songs.  His material was next used in a Charlie Chaplin film dating from 1919 a film that Chaplin also penned: Sunnyside has both a full mono and a silent version--the 1974 mono reissue of the film featured Balfe's song "When Other Lips."  Finally, in 1929, his song "Excelsior" was featured in the short musical comedy Satires.  The first full length film to feature his music came in 1930 in Song o' My Heart.  The latest use of his music in a film came in the 2011 horror film The Shadows.  Balfe died in his home,  in Romney Abbey, Hampshire, England on 20 October 1870 at the age of 62.  He is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery in London.  

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