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William Ludwig (Ledwidge)

William Ledwidge was a chorister, copyist and music teacher. He was a member of many Dublin church choirs including University Church and St. Saviour's, Dominick Street. He was second tenor in the Pro-Cathedral. He was also a member of the chorus of Dublin's Theatre Royal. He hand copied much of the music used in that theatre. This was lost in the tragic fire of 1878.

He married Teresa Burke on February 19, 1844 in St. Nicholas [Without], Francis St., Dublin.

His son William was born on 15 July 1847 in Arran Quay, Dublin. William Ledwidge was baptised 26 July 1847 at St. Nicholas. His sponsors were John and Margaret Morrison. This is the William of our story.

He was educated at the National Schools, Marlborough St. where he received musical instruction from John W. Glover. He attended O'Connell Schools and often sang in the monastery chapel. He came under the influence of Br. Swan and later entered a solicitor's office. He sang for a time in the choir of St. Paul's Church, Arran quay, with Mr. J. J. Fagan, his life-long friend. His first lessons were from Richard Vincent O'Brien (father of Vincent O'Brien). He sang in University Church where Alban Croft was the organist and where he met Signor Cellini who gave him lessons.

Under John Hollinshed, Ludwig played small parts in the Gaiety Theatre, Strand.

A devout Catholic, he was generous in lending his invaluable services to Dublin Church choirs. He sang a good deal in the Church of the Passionist Fathers, Mount Argus, and when in 1874 he went to London and joined the Carl Rosa Company, he sang every Sunday in the Passionist Church in Highgate.

In the Carl Rosa company he had as his contemporary Charles Santley, on whom a knighthood was conferred later. So great was Santley's admiration for his Irish colleague that on retiring from the operatic stage he left his valuable wardrobe to him as a parting gift.

He changed his name to Ludwig, possibly because his real name of Ledwidge was so often misspelt or perhaps he felt that a more Germanic name would be more suitable for an opera singer. Signor Foli was really Mr. Foley.

William married (1) 15 January 1872 Mary Catherine Price (d. 1874) one son (2) 16 February 1876 Evelyn Miles (Chelsea, England) two sons, nine daughters. He set up his home in London at 191 Junction Road and later at 13 Queen’s Avenue.

In 1877, he became chief baritone of Carl Rosa Opera Company. From the outset, he became famous as a Wagnerian singer and continued for most of his career to sing in those operas. Not only was his big voice suited to parts such as Wotan, the Dutchman and Hans Sachs but his declamation and acting were splendidly dramatic.

In May 1883 he was in the Carl Rosa production of Il Trovatore in the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin. The theatre was connected to the Exhibition in the University building in Earlsfort Terrace by a first generation telephone. Visitors to the exhibition were able to hear the opera live from the Gaiety.

He also sang Claude Frollo in Goring Thomas's Esmeralda at Drury lane in 1883 and took part in the first performance of Mackenzie's Colomba (April 5, 1883). He was also justly famous for his oratorio and concert singing. He was perhaps the greatest Vanderdecken of his day. Wagner is said to have given him a score of "The Flying Dutchman," inscribed: "To the incomparable Vanderdeken." However Wagner referred to the title role as "the Dutchman" and not Vanderdecken but in English productions the title role was always referred to as Vanderdecken or even Van Der Decken.

So complete, indeed, was Ludwig's art that even the most trivial operatic role or the most trifling ballad became a thing of beauty through the magic of his treatment.

In October 1887 he went to America for the second time. Having missed the train from Dublin he hired a locomotive for (Queenstown) Cobh putting his baggage in the engine tender. This cost him £50. The journey time of 3 hours 44 minutes was a new record, Dublin to Queenstown. However he arrived ten minutes after the Servia had sailed. Then he hired a tugboat to chase and catch the Servia, the total cost of journey was £100. This was better than forfeiting the contract.

He was engaged by the National Opera Company and sang in New York, Boston and Chicago. He returned there regularly in the 1890’s and in 1901, 1905, 1908 and 1909.

Sir Henry Wood described him as 'the greatest Elijah'. This was at St. James' Hall with Joseph Mass as tenor.

In 1895 he sang in The Creation in aid of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Dublin. The orchestra was led by Theodore Werner and conducted by Peter Goodman.

In 1898 he organised a series of "'98 Concerts" to commemorate the centenary of the 1798 rebellion. He had singers, pipers, harpists and dancers and 'songs of love and war, keenes and lullabies.'

James Joyce referred to him as 'a stupendous success, and his host of admirers came in large numbers, everyone simply flocking to hear him'. He mentions him by name in Ulysses and in Finnigans Wake.

John McCormack says: 'one of the most distinguished baritones Ireland has produced. It is a just tribute to one of the greatest singers Ireland ever produced to say, at this point, that William Ludwig was a supreme artist.'

In 1903 William organised touring concert parties and one of these went to Athlone. Lily Foley and John McCormack were engaged to sing. Ludwig introduced them and put McCormack in Lily's care. Lily tells the story of this meeting in "I hear you calling me" by Lily McCormack.

During these tours two of his daughters, Winifred (mezzo-soprano) and Florence (soprano), sang under the name Ludwig.

Unfortunately just as he was planning to retire from the stage and begin full time teaching he suffered from a throat infection that necessitated an operation which destroyed his voice. His last public performance was with Carl Rosa in Dublin's Theatre Royal at Christmas 1910. He played Danny Mann in Lily of Killarney, Don Jose in Maritana and Count Arnaheim in Bohemian Girls (12 January 1911). His friends organised a benefit concert in His Majesties Theatre London December 8, 1913 and with the proceeds they bought him an annuity and this plus some work in the fledgling cinema industry helped him survive in modest circumstances. His charity work is reckoned to have cost him much of his fortune.

He died in London, 25 December 1923.

He is commemorated annually by the Royal Irish Academy of Music who award the Ludwig Cup.