Michael William Balfe (15 May 1808 – 20 October 1870) has been described as the Irish Mozart because he was a musical child prodigy and began composing when he was only seven.
He was born in Dublin and became one of Ireland’s greatest composers. By the age of six, he was playing violin for his father’s dancing classes.
When he was seven, he composed a polacca (a slow dance of Polish origin, in 3/4 time). On 30th May in 1817, when he was nine, he gave his first public concert playing the violin.
His music is still performed today by major artists like Enya.
The Bohemian Girl – outstanding success
He is best-remembered for his opera The Bohemian Girl, which he produced in 1843. It opened on November 27, 1843 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. It ran for over 100 nights.
Productions of The Bohemian Girl were shown in New York, Dublin, Philadelphia, Sydney, Vienna and throughout Europe.
In 1854, an Italian adaptation called La Zingara was shown in Trieste and was highly acclaimed. This was performed in both Italian and German to worldwide audiences. In 1862, a four-act French version, entitled La Bohemienne was produced in France which was successful.
His music featured in Martin Scorsese film
Michael William Balfe composed 38 operas, over 200 songs and other works in his 40 year career. He was also a noted conductor, directing Italian Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre for seven years.
But he is remembered mainly for The Bohemian Girl. Its best-known aria is “I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls” has been recorded by many artists, notably by Dame Joan Sutherland, and Irish singer Enya.
Martin Scorsese used the Enya version of “I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls” in his film The Age Of Innocence (based on Edith Wharton’s 1921 novel), which won the Pulitzer Prize.