Saturday, 28 April 2018

Michael Balfe’s Strange Roommate: A Gothic Tale…

Michael Balfe was an Irish composer. Born in Dublin in 1808, he was the son of a dancing master. Balfe was a precocious youth: he learned to play the violin to sing and to compose at an early age.  Whilst singing Italian opera in France and Italy, he became acquainted with several masters of day, including Cherubini and Rossini.  In 1833, Balfe returned to England, where he produced a series of light operas. The most enduring is The Bohemian Girl, premiered in 1843. He continued to tour Europe and visited many countries including France, Spain, Italy and Russia. In London he held the post of conductor at Her Majesty’s Theatre in the Haymarket for several years. In 1864 he retired to a farm at Rowney Abbey in Hertfordshire. Michael Balfe died there in 1870.

‘The composer of the popular Bohemian Girl once had an experience that he did not care to duplicate.
Landladies are not supposed to be very sentimental beings, at least toward their lodgers, but have the reputation of being business-like and matter-of-fact; but the one who caused this peculiar occurrence, in which Balfe was an interested party, certainly stood at the head of the procession in her delight in silver rather than sentiment.
Balfe and other musicians were engaged for a short time in some musical doings on the outskirts of London, and rather than go back and forth from the city each day, they decided to take rooms for the time in that neighbourhood.
But apartments were scarce, and the genial Irishman was compelled to take what offered at a house not any too prepossessing in its external appearance.
It was quite late. The landlady was uncertain whether there were any spare rooms or not; but left him standing in the hall-way while she went to see if she could arrange a room for him. Finally, she returned and told him in a confused way that his apartment was ready.
Tired by the day's labour, he soon fell asleep without examining the room, but early the next morning proceeded to make a tour of his apartment. He had not one far before he discovered in a closet opening from his room a corpse, which had evidently been put in its cramped quarters in great haste.
Balfe stopped not on the order of his going, but took his departure, thankful, however, that he had not made the discovery in the moonlight of the night before. The old lady had evidently been unable to withstand the temptation to make a little ready cash, and summarily deprived the body of her deceased relative of its temporary resting place, and Balfe had calmly stepped in and taken its place.
He used to joke over the landlady's eye to business, but that experience so impressed him that he never occupied a strange room without making an examination prior to sleeping in it.’

From Anecdotes of Great Musicians by W. Francis Gates (1895), with minor edits.

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