Giacomo Meyerbeer – Fest-Ouvertüre im Marschstil für die Londoner Weltausstellung
(b. Berlin, 5 September 1791 – d. Paris, 2 May 1864)
(Gran Sinfonia in Forma di Marcia)
(Fest-Ouvertüre and the 1862 London Exhibition)
The London International Exhibition, held from May to November of 1862, has been largely forgotten, certainly in comparison to the Great Exhibition of 1851 for which it was devised as a successor. It was ill-fated in many ways. Its patron, Prince Albert, died whilst the Exhibition was being developed, and as a consequence none of the Royal Family attended its opening or events. The final report of the Commissioners responsible for the Exhibition concluded that “The events originating in 1861, when the pillars of the American commonwealth came crashing downwards and startled the nations of Europe by their fall, entailed great suffering on masses of our own population, who would in happier circumstances have been among the firmest friends of the Exhibition. But […] it was the melancholy death of the Prince Consort in December, 1861, that gave the heaviest blow to the fortunes of the enterprise. The nation was suddenly plunged into mourning, and anything like gaiety or display became visibly, out of place.
There was also the problem of the vast, ugly and much-derided building in which it was housed, with gigantic twin domes that were compared to “colossal soup-bowls”. It was hardly ready when the Exhibition was opened and was demolished shortly after it closed (the London Natural History Museum now stands on its site).
Nonetheless the Exhibition attracted over 6 million visitors, and even made a minute financial surplus.
One topic strongly featured in 1862, which had been neglected in 1851, was music. Although the earlier exhibition had contained extensive exhibits of musical instruments (the judges of which included Hector Berlioz, Sigismund Thalberg and William Sterndale Bennett), there were no musical concerts. However, when the Crystal Palace, which had housed the 1851 exhibition, was subsequently re-erected in South London in 1854, it swiftly became an extremely popular concert venue; and it was probably this which inspired the Board of Commissioners of the 1862 Exhibition to commission four major works from leading composers, one British and three foreign, to feature at its opening ceremony. The four who were initially approached were Sterndale Bennett, Daniel Auber, Gioachino Rossini and Giacomo Meyerbeer. Rossini demurred, and an invitation was then extended to Giuseppe Verdi. …
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