Macfarren, Sir George Alexander



English musician, who, though blind part of his life, accomplished an enormous amount of work, and won a remarkable musical reputation for himself in his own country. He was a son of the dramatist, George Macfarren, and was born at London. He did not begin to study music until 1827, and then became a pupil of Charles Lucas. In 1829 he entered the Royal Academy of Music, where he studied the piano, trombone and composition. In 1834 he became a professor at the Royal Academy and the same year produced his symphony in F minor. In 1836 his overture, Chevy Chase, appeared; in 1838 his Devil's Opera was presented; and in 1840 his Emblematic Tribute on the Queen's marriage was given at Drury Lane. In 1843 he became a member of the Handel Society and edited Belshazzar, Judas Maccabaeus and Jephthah; in 1845 he directed Mendelssohn's Antigone at Covent Garden; in 1846 produced his own opera, Don Quixote; and in 1849 his opera, Charles II. In 1851 his cantata, Leonora, appeared; in 1856 another cantata, May Day, was given, and in 1859 his cantata, Christmas, was produced. In 1860 he brought out Robinhood, one of his most successful works, and in 1863 his masque, Freya's Gift, written in honor of the Prince of Wales' marriage; also his opera, Jessy Lea; and in 1864 three other operas, She Stoops to Conquer, The Soldiers' Legacy, and Helvellyn.


About this time the composer became totally blind, but continued his work of teaching and writing with unceasing energy with the aid of helpers to take dictation from him. In 1873 his oratorio, St. John the Baptist, was produced, and in 1875 he was given the degrees of Bachelor and Doctor of Music and was made a professor of music at Cambridge. In 1876 he became principal of the Royal Academy of Music and brought out his oratorio, The Resurrection. In 1877 his oratorio, Joseph, and his cantata, The Lady of the Lake, were produced. In 1883 he again appeared with an oratorio, King David, and in the same year was knighted. Among his other compositions are overtures to The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet. He wrote many excellent educational musical works which had much influence at the time, as The Rudiments of Harmony, and Six Lectures on Harmony. He contributed to The Musical World and wrote the lives of musicians for the Imperial Dictionary of Universal Biography. He also delivered many lectures in London and elsewhere. His active life ended in 1877, and he was buried at Hampstead cemetery. A life of him by H. C. Banister was published in 1891. Macfarren wrote in almost every form of music and attracted much attention in his time, but his works seem to lack the life and spontaneity of modern composers.