Rhapsodie Écossaise for orchestra
Mackenzie, Alexander Campbell
Alexander Campbell Mackenzie
(b. Edinburgh, 22 August 1847; d. London, 28 April 1935)
The young Alexander Mackenzie was a gifted musician and at the age of 10 he was sent to the conservatorium in Schwarzburg-Sondershausen (in present-day Thuringia) to study with K. W. Ulrich and Eduard Stein. It happened that the Thuringian capital, Weimar, was the base of Franz Liszt and Mackenzie took every opportunity to hear the great Hungarian composer-pianist. This was significant for at least one thing: between 1854-1857 Liszt had written a series of Rhapsodies Hongroises. These were freely-structured works incorporating folk songs.
Back in Britain, Mackenzie entered the Royal Academy of Music in 1862, studying under Prosper Sainton for violin. In 1888 he would become the Principal of the Royal Academy (a post he would hold until 1924) but before that he worked as an orchestral musician in London and Birmingham, becoming a firm friend on Hans von Bülow and starting to compose in earnest. In 1879, he was approached by the German conductor August Manns, who had recently taken over the Glasgow Choral Union and who was on a sort of Scottish ‘crusade’. Manns was very precise: he wanted one of the new Lisztian Rhapsodies, but based on Scottish themes. Mackenzie recalled, “‚when Manns suggested to me that I should write it, he also suggested as a model Svendsen‘s Norwegian Rhapsodies [MPH score 926], which hint I took and wrote it in that 3 movement (sinfonietta) form”.
Mackenzie obliged with this score, dedicated to Prosper Sainton, which Manns conducted in Edinburgh on 5 January 1880. It is in three continuous sections, each based on a Scottish folk song – Muirland Willie, Braw, braw, lads o’ Gala Water and There was a lad was born in Kyle. There is very little development of the themes, which are presented clearly and simply. Mackenzie composed more ‘rhapsodies’ – including the Canadian Rhapsody [MPH score 1054] – and many more works with a Scottish theme, but this was the first British example to emulate Liszt’s. It can be argued that this Rhapsodie Écossaise began a fashion that saw a series of Scottish works by composers such as Hamish MacCunn, William Wallace and J. B. McEwen, as well as examples from Stanford, Delius, Holst, Vaughan Williams, Moeran and Finzi.
Phillip Brookes, 2016
The Phillip Brookes Collection
210 x 297 mm