Mackenzie, Alexander Campbell



Stands in the front rank of British composers. He was born in Edinburgh, where he received his general education at Hunter's School. His father was probably his first teacher in music, but he was soon put under the care of Johann Durner, a composer. At the earnest recommendation of Durner he was taken to Schwartzburg-Sondershausen, Germany, to begin his serious musical study, and placed in surroundings exceedingly favorable to his musical advancement. He obtained a position in the ducal orchestra and began the study of theory with the conductor, Edouard Stein, and the violin with Ulrich. His training was of the best, and he had frequent opportunities to play the music of such masters as Wagner, Berlioz and Liszt, besides becoming acquainted with many of the great musicians, among them Liszt and Max Bruch. Returned to Scotland in 1862, and after a short stay in Edinburgh, went to London to study the violin under his father's old friend and master, Prosper Sainton, at whose advice he competed for the King's Scholarship in the Royal Academy of Music, an honor which he was so fortunate as to win. He supported himself by playing in an orchestra and studied violin under Sainton, harmony and counterpoint under Lucas, and piano under Jewson. At the close of his course at the Royal Academy in 1865 he returned to Edinburgh and began to teach. He soon became known as a violinist and performer of chambermusic, and in 1873 became conductor of the Scottish Vocal Music Association and St. George's Church, besides teaching at the Church of Scotland Normal College. He played first violin in the Edinburgh Classical Chamber concerts, at which were performed some of his own compositions, among them his piano quartet in E flat, which is in a measure the foundation of his success. Mackenzie's overture, Cervantes, was given with decided success. Other compositions which Mackenzie found time to work on during these busy years are a scherzo, and his beautiful Scotch rhapsody. He played in the orchestra at the Birmingham Festivals in 1864, 1867, 1870 and 1873, until under the strain of so much work his health gave out and he was forced to rest.


He had long wished to visit Italy, so went to Florence for six months, until his health had somewhat recovered. Then he set about serious work, producing The Bride, and Jason, in which his power of writing descriptive music begins to appear. His next work, the opera Colomba, was undertaken to meet an offer from The Carl Rosa Opera Company. In spite of its uninspiring libretto it was a distinct success. The Rose of Sharon, a dramatic oratorio written for a Norwich Festival, is regarded by some critics as his best work. In 1884 he received an offer from Novello to conduct a revival of the series of Oratorio concerts. This offer he subsequently accepted. While he was in London, at this time, he wrote the Troubadour, around a libretto which proved even more unworthy his music than his Colomba. During the years 1886 and 1887 he produced his Story of Sayid, his Jubilee Ode, at the Crystal Palace, and his Twelfth Night Overture, and received the degree of Doctor of Music at St. Andrews. In 1892 he was appointed conductor of the Philharmonic Society. He went back to Italy in 1887, but at the death of Sir George Macfarren he was elected principal of the Royal Academy of Music, and, returning to England, he at once identified himself with that institution, which he has greatly benefited.


His work in composition may be divided into three periods, the early period to which belong his piano quartet in E flat, his two Scotch rhapsodies, the overture Cervantes, and the scherzo for orchestra; The Florentine period, including The Bride, Jason, Colomba, The Rose of Sharon, and his beautiful music for Keats' La Belle Dame sans Merci; his late period, including the Troubadour, the comic opera, His Majesty, Story of Sayid, Twelfth Night overture, music for Marmion and Ravenswood, and Veni Creator. It is generally conceded that the works which best express his musical genius are La Belle Dame sans Merci and the overture, Twelfth Night.