Britannia - A Nautical Overture
Sir Alexander Campbell Mackenzie (1847-1935) was the foremost Scottish composer of his generation. Although he is routinely bracketed with Charles Stanford and Hubert Parry, his music is distinctly fluent and witty.
He was born into a musical family in Edinburgh and played the violin professionally from the age of eight! During a spell of study in Germany he befriended Franz Liszt, whose freedom of expression can be detected in the present work, in which the composer writes what he wants to hear, rather than what the rules suggest.
On his return he continued to play the violin, conducted several choirs and collected Scottish folk music, and in the course of his work as a jobbing orchestral player he befriended many international artists. It is said that his cantata The Bride (first performed in Worcester in 1881) greatly inspired the young Elgar. In 1888 he was appointed principal of the Royal Academy of Music and remained there until his retirement in 1924. He was remembered as a composer of operas and oratorios (which is what counted then) but he was by any measure an extremely successful musician.
The Britannia Overture was composed in 1894 for the seventieth anniversary of the RAM and dedicated to Queen Victoria's second son Alfred, who before he acceded to the dukedom of Saxe-Coburg had been a prominent British naval commander and was by all accounts a talented and much-respected sailor. Mackenzie's relentless pot-pourri of hornpipes and Thomas Arne is as exhilarating as any day at sea. (His Royal Highness was keen on music and would have known that Rule, Britannia! first appeared in a masque entitled Alfred.)
As usual, the parts for contrabass reeds and extra saxhorns are optional. The second oboe and second bassoon are nice to have and the alto clarinet is strongly recommended. Although the score is comprehensive it is intended to work with as few as forty players.