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