On 20 February 1907 The Tatler published a short piece written by Sir Alexander Mackenzie describing a ‘typical’ day in his life at this time. Clearly not every day was like, but it gives a good idea as to what life was like as Principal of the Royal College of Music. Clearly his duties involved both administration, teaching and conducting. And there was much work to be undertaken in furthering his career as a composer and conductor. Like all these kinds of ‘personal’ stories, little, if anything, is said about extra-curricular activities. I guess that on many days there was no time for anything other than sleep.
The latter half of the this piece refers to Canada from where Alexander Mackenzie had recently returned after a demanding tour.
A Brief Biographical Note: Alexander Campbell Mackenzie (b Edinburgh, 22 Aug 1847; d London, 28 April 1935) 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.
‘A Day in My Life’ by Sir Alexander Mackenzie
A Divided Day
For many years past I have divided my days into two sections - the portion 1 devote to my private work and the portion I give to fulfilling my public responsibilities. The morning hours I reserve to myself sacredly for composition or such musical work without which I am neither content nor happy. Given some leisure for this I am able to approach my public duties with zest and energy, but before doing so 1 generally manage to have three or four hours at my own desk.
Conducting the Students' Orchestra.
For the rest here is a typical account of my average ‘daily day.’ I will suppose the day to be one on which I conduct the large students' orchestra, a work to which I devote three hours, from two to five o'clock. During that period, I hear our prominent pupils perform and sing, and as musical conductor I thus get to know their individual gifts and capabilities very intimately.
Trying the Compositions of Students.
On these days I sometimes try over such manuscript compositions which have been passed for trial by the professors of the academy with a view to giving them a public hearing at our concerts. These compositions 1 should perhaps explain have been written by our students, but before I rehearse them with our band they must be passed by our professors, otherwise I should probably have too many immature efforts submitted to me.
Concert Programme Pieces.
Of course, I do not decide on giving a public hearing to every composition. Only the best of these manuscripts ultimately figure on our concert programmes, and many of the most prominent of our younger composers have received their baptism of fire under these conditions.
Sometimes weird, melancholy, and morbid enough music comes before me, and a mild joke on my part at such times has frequently resulted in promoting a healthier and brighter tone in the future efforts of its writer and probably saved him from perhaps less good-humoured chastenings at the hands of others. But my young friends are, I am glad to think, very tolerant of criticism.
Reading at Sight.
Invariably some time is spent in the study of the most recent orchestral works so that both students and conductor keep up continued acquaintance with the latest phases of the art, and the ready manner in which very difficult music is read prima vista is sometimes astonishing.
Seeing New Pupils.
Rehearsals over I adjourn to my room to keep appointments with students, parents, and others. At this time of the year new pupils are continually coming to join the academy, and 1 find half-a-dozen or more waiting to see me. Students come to us from all parts of the world, even from Germany.
A Difficult Duty.
I hear each intending pupil play or sing and find out generally how far advanced his or her musical education may be before deciding on the particular professor under whom the pupil shall study. To do this conscientiously and without undue waste of time requires quick thinking, and anyone who has not (like Mr. H. G. Wells) acquired the ‘prophetic habit’ would naturally hesitate before answering some of the anxious questions regarding the future and such like problems which are not infrequently put to me on these occasions.
During this period of the day's work I may be called upon to give a hurried piece of advice or encouragement to a student upon some particular point in his or her studies, or perhaps to see one of my colleagues who wishes to consult me. Then there are the ex-students who present themselves for final examination and a certificate on leaving the R.A.M.
Still More Work.
At half-past six I have probably got through all my interviews, but not all the correspondence, which has to be attended to before I can consider myself free. Subsequently I have not infrequently to move on to the offices of the Associated Board of the Royal Academy and Royal College of Music.
The Board of the R.A.M.
The board constantly sits until eight o'clock discussing the details of examinations and other matters not artistically exciting but, on the contrary, uncommonly dry work; happily, my colleagues are distinguished musicians and intimate friends, and so somewhere towards nine p.m. my day's work ends.
My Busiest Day.
To be overcrowded with invitations to work is, I fear, the inevitable portion of the o'er-willing horse, and a great deal more falls to my share than I could mention in a short article of this character. I was recently asked what was the busiest day I ever put in. Well, 1 think that day was one on which 1 began at 9.30 a.m. with an orchestral rehearsal of two hours and a half in London, Ontario.
Travelling, Speaking, Rehearsing, Conducting, and Banqueting.
We then proceeded by special train to Woodstock; there, after speaking at a public luncheon of which I had no time to partake, I hurriedly rehearsed the local choir in sight of the incoming audience; then conducted an afternoon concert and returned to London [Ontario] in time for the evening concert; The day ended with another banquet given by the mayor.
Upheld by the Climate.
All this did not prevent me from being at my post at an early rehearsal in Toronto on the following morning. I do not think I could possibly have got through such a fatiguing day's work in this country, but the Canadian climate is wonderfully bracing and invigorating: At all events I found it to be so.
Another Canadian Experience.
In two or three of the smaller Canadian towns I conducted the first orchestral concerts ever given, and as these entertainments took place in theatres I had to direct in the ‘house’ between the third and fourth row of stalls surrounded by the audience. Encores were always numerous enough, but on one occasion the enthusiasm was so compelling that I was obliged to play - with the exception of a short choral work - every item in the programme twice over. Truly the goodwill of the listeners helped my staying powers amazingly. A.C.M.
The Tatler - Wednesday 20 February 1907