I found an interesting note about Sir Alexander Mackenzie’s peregrination around Sussex in November 1908 – exactly one hundred years ago. It is hard to imagine how popular Mackenzie was at that time. I guess that his name is little known to the vast majority of music lovers and is known by only a handful of pieces to the enthusiast of British music. I conclude the review with a short biography of the composer.
It is interesting to note that most of the works are currently available on Hyperion CDs.
The tour started on October 29 when the composer visited Tunbridge Wells to conduct his compositions at a concert promoted by Mr. Francis J. Foote. A number of Mackenzie’s works were heard including the Astarte Prelude from Manfred, the Pibroch Suite for violin and orchestra and the ‘breezy’ Britannia Overture. The soloist was a certain Mr Hans Wessely. The nights programme also include a tone poem for orchestra entitled Elaine, which was composed by Foote himself. Schubert’s B minor Symphony was also performed. Mackenzie conducted the entire programme as Foote was indisposed, due to illness.
At Devonshire Park, Eastbourne on November 12 the composer once again conducted his Britannia Overture and the Prelude and Ballet Music from his opera Columbia. In addition two movements from the new Suite for violin and orchestra were given – Celtic Legend (No.1) and Alla Zingara (No.4.) The soloist at this event was Sidney Freedman who was at that time the leader of the Duke of Devonshire’s private orchestra in Eastbourne! The remainder of the concert included Debussy’s Prelude L’Apres midi d’un Faune and a Haydn Symphony.
The reviewer notes that both concerts were “a great success, and the distinguished visitor was very warmly received.”
On 25 November Mackenzie was in action again. This time the venue was at the Dome in Brighton with the Municipal Orchestra. The programme contained the Astarte Prelude, the Second Scottish Rhapsody ‘Burns’ the Britannia Overture, a ‘larghetto’ and ‘allegretto’ for ‘cello and orchestra and the Pibroch Suite for violin and orchestra. Finally three of the composer’s songs were included: Lift up my spirit to thee, What does little birdie say and finally We’ll all make holiday. Surely this last number was appropriate for the South Coast’s premier seaside resort?
A brief biographical note on Sir Alexander Campbell Mackenzie (1847-1935)
Mackenzie was a Scottish composer, who was educated at the Royal Academy of Music, (of which he was later to become the Principal) He had further studies in Germany, where he made the acquaintance of Franz Liszt. (Unlike most of his English contemporaries he was brought up to music as a fiddler and an orchestral player rather than as an organist.)
He was an indefatigable organiser both in London and in Scotland and an adventurous conductor. As a composer he endeavoured to blend Scottish nationalism, with advanced German romantic expression. Examples of this fusion are The Cotter's Saturday Night, to a text by Robert Burns, set for chorus and orchestra, his Scottish Rhapsodies and his Pibroch suite for violin). He wrote oratorios which were perhaps less successful , musically and technically than his orchestral pieces, good deal of effective theatre music. He also composed two operas (The Cricket on the Hearth, 1902, and The Eve of St. John, 1924) and much chamber music. Among this is a well worth playing Pianoforte Quintet in E flat Op. 11.