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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 20 seconds

Britannia 'A Nautical Overture', Op 52
composer

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Trained at the RAM, Alexander Mackenzie (1847–1935) had started life as an accomplished professional violinist but went on to become one of the most prolific and influential musicians in British musical life. It was possibly the orchestral connection that instilled in Elgar a lifelong affection and admiration for the older composer. Sitting in the last desk of first violins at the 1881 Worcester premiere of Mackenzie’s cantata The Bride, Elgar was overcome by its masterly orchestration and later wrote: ‘The coming of Mackenzie, then, was a real event. Here was a man fully equipped in every department of musical knowledge who had been a violinist in orchestras in Germany. It gave orchestral players a real lift’.

Mackenzie succeeded Macfarren as Principal of the RAM in 1881 and composed his ‘nautical overture’ Britannia for the festivities connected with the seventieth anniversary of that institution in 1894. It was given its first public London performance in May of the same year under Richter and soon became a regular feature of the Henry Wood Proms. The overture makes witty and ingenious use of the refrain to Arne’s famous tune and to certain melodic features of the hornpipe ‘Jack’s the Lad’, but is largely composed of three original themes, one of which (the trio-like second subject) is intended to reproduce the style of nautical song popularised by Dibdin. The whole piece is put together with the professional assurance so admired by Elgar and seems to look forward to the salty tang of Walton’s Portsmouth Point. Coincidentally, both overtures were inspired by the work of an English caricaturist—in this instance Cruikshank’s ‘Saturday Night at Sea’. It is the very epitome of the robust good health in which British orchestral music at last found itself in the final decade of Queen Victoria’s reign.

from notes by Hugh Priory © 1991

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