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Hyperion Records

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Macbeth and the Witches by Henry Fuseli (1741-1825)
The National Trust, Petworth House, Sussex
Track(s) taken from CDH55088
Recording details: June 1991
St Margaret's Church, Ilkley, Yorkshire, United Kingdom
Release date: November 1991
Total duration: 7 minutes 56 seconds

‘This praiseworthy Hyperion disc certainly deserves the consideration of all serious devotees of English music’ (Gramophone)

‘67 minutes of delightful, ear-catching musical cameos’ (American Record Guide)

'A required purchase for Anglophiles' (Fanfare, USA)

'More precious evidence of the hidden riches of British music during the 19th century. A splendid collection' (CDReview)

Chevy Chace
composer

Chevy Chace  [7'56]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The overture Chevy Chace (Macfarren was meticulous in preferring the antiquated spelling of the latter word) dates from 1836, and although its origins were theatrical it quickly became accepted as a concert overture in its own right and was frequently performed during the composer’s lifetime. It had been commissioned by an impresario when a prelude to a melodrama of the same name by James Planché (librettist of Weber’s Oberon) was required in a hurry. Chevy Chace was a popular old ballad recounting a feud between the families of Percy and Douglas over hunting rights on the Scottish border, and was sung to three different tunes. Macfarren’s choice is wistfully announced on divided violins in the slow section that follows the opening ‘Allegro vivace’. The scoring and rhythm of the all-pervading dotted hunting motif show that the Philharmonic Society’s performances of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony had left their mark on at least one listener. The Chevy Chace tune is later skilfully worked into the main section of the overture which is scored with a surprisingly resourceful use of percussion.

In the event, the overture was not used in the play’s production but was first performed in its own right in 1837. It was conducted by J W Davison, who was to become better known as the redoubtable music critic of The Times. Six years later Mendelssohn conducted it at the Leipzig Gewandhaus and wrote a letter to Macfarren describing its enthusiastic reception. More surprisingly, another German composerconductor gave it its next London performance in 1855 at a Philharmonic concert. This was none other than Richard Wagner who, in his autobiography My Life, calls the composer ‘Mr. Mac Farrinc, a pompous, melancholy Scotsman’, misnames the overture ‘Steeple-Chase’ but admits to having enjoyed it for its ‘peculiarly wild, passionate character’—a generous assessment from someone who had already written the Prelude to Act 3 of Lohengrin. Chevy Chace has never been published in full score, but it 1841 it was issued as a piano duet.

The overture—and more specifically the concert overture as developed by Beethoven, Weber and Mendelssohn—from now on became the most favoured form for British composers to use when venturing into the field of orchestral music. Shorter, less demanding than the symphony and allowing the possible further stimulus of a dramatic or pictorial programme, the term ‘overture’ in the mid-nineteenth century had come to be used for almost any one-movement orchestral piece with a more or less descriptive title. Even Liszt’s earliest orchestral works had been conceived as concert overtures until on publication they established a new vogue term ‘symphonic poem’. In England, Macfarren’s colleague, Sterndale Bennett, produced three examples in the Mendelssohnian mould which were to set a pattern, if not a standard, for several years to come.

from notes by Hugh Priory © 1991

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