William Wallace at the University of Glasgow

Perhaps you were thinking of a different William Wallace than the William Wallace who graduated from Medicine in 1886 and later received a commended MD for his thesis, ‘The Field of Vision: with special reference to its anomalies in Diseases of the Nervous System’. This William, however, was certainly an interesting character.

Although he studied medicine, Wallace would go on to become a composer of note. He was one of the first composers in the country to experiment with the symphonic poem and wrote one for his namesake. Indeed it appears that he gained much inspiration from the medieval period, also writing a symphonic poem based on works by Villon (a medieval French poet). He was also a proud Scot, writing ‘In Praise of Scottish Poesie’ and ‘A Scots Fantasy’. This was all part of a late nineteenth-century classical music movement in Scotland that drew heavily on romanticism, perhaps the most famous piece from this movement being MacCunn’s ‘The Land of the Mountain and the Flood’. Recently there has been a renewed interest in Wallace’s work and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra have recorded some of his orchestra pieces. As well as composing music Wallace also wrote about it and served as the Dean of Faculty of Music at University College London.

In 1914 Wallace was still registered as a doctor in London and signed up with the Royal Medical Corps, inspecting ophthalmic units. It is said that he took less than a week’s holiday over all his service. Whilst it has been suggested that Wallace was pushed into medicine by his surgeon father, he certainly didn’t completely abandon it for music.

The divide between the arts and the sciences is often seen as absolute; if you show ability in maths you will not be able to paint, if you can sing you cannot solve equations, if you are able to write you will not be able to conduct an experiment. William Wallace shows this to be completely untrue, during his lifetime he was successful as both a doctor and a composer and his achievements in both should not be forgotten.

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