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