Alexander Campbell Mackenzie – The Bride
(b. Edinburgh, 22 August 1847 – d. London, 28 April 1935)
It is not usual for a 10-year old Scottish lad to be taken by his father to study music in Germany and, on being left there in the ducal town of Sondershausen, told that he will never see his father again. That was what happened to Alexander Mackenzie, for his father was ill and knew he was dying. Was it cruel of him to leave the lad alone on the edge of the Harz mountains, apprenticed to Kapellmeister Stein? No, it was not. It was a selfless gift of a future for a talented boy who rose to eminence in European music, admired by Liszt, Busoni, Hans von Bülow, Pablo Sarasate and Edward Elgar; who was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1895 and made Knight Commander of the Victorian Order by King Edward VII in 1922 and, to this day, shamefully neglected by his own nation.
Virtually orphaned, there was no money to support Mackenzie in Sondershausen, but such were his talents that he was supporting himself from the age of 11 as a second violinist in the ducal orchestra. When he eventually left Germany for Edinburgh and then on to study in London, he had to re-learn English – or perhaps one should say Scots, for he never lost his Scottish accent and was affectionately referred to as “Mac”.
In 1888 he accepted the post of principal of the Royal Academy of Music in London and there he remained until his retiral in 1924. The distinction with which he served that institution, while continuing to conduct and compose, is simply expressed in the words of Elgar, “Here he identified himself with everything that was great and good.”
As an administrator, MacKenzie perhaps eclipsed himself as a composer. But it is in the latter capacity that he should now be remembered. His gift of melody is outstanding: his handling of thematic transformation is as deft as his orchestration: he can mould large as well as small forms, the two concertos and Pibroch Suite being worthy of a permanent place in the repertoire, as is his oratorio The Rose of Sharon. His music, though clearly born in the Brahms-Liszt-Wagner era, is his own, whether in Scottish idiom or no. …
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