Sheelagh Mooney remembers the Irish composer, best remembered for his operas, especially ‘The Bohemian Girl’


Michael William Balfe was born to William Balfe, a violinist and dance teacher and Mary Ryan on the 15th May 1808 at 10, Pitt Street, in Dublin (now the site of the Westbury Hotel). Pitt Street was renamed in 1917 to Balfe Street to honour its most famous son.

Balfe was a child prodigy and by the age of nine had already performed his first violin recital in the Rotunda Concert rooms. Though he was a talented violinist he was also a gifted singer, a skilful conductor and eventually a globally renowned composer.

His first composition ‘The Lover’s Mistake’ was published in 1822 by Isaac Willis, of Westmoreland Street, Dublin when he was just fourteen years of age.

On the death of his father in 1823 at the age of fifteen, he left for London where he joined the orchestra of the Drury Lane Theatre as a violinist. The theatre was at the time under the direction of fellow Dubliner, Tom Cooke. Balfe eventually became leader of that orchestra.

In 1825 a wealthy Russian patron captivated by Balfe’s genius sponsored him to travel to Italy to study composing and operatic singing.

In 1827 while continuing his studies in Paris he met with Rossini who further supported and encouraged his singing and musical studies in Italy.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own