A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Macfarren, George

MACFARREN, George Alexander, Mus. Doc., son of George Macfarren, dramatist, was born in London, March 2, 1813. In early life he displayed partiality for music, but did not regularly commence its study until 1827, when he became a pupil of Charles Lucas. In 1829 he entered the Royal Academy of Music, and made composition his principal study, learning also the pianoforte and trombone; and in 1834 he was appointed one of its professors. On Oct. 27, 1834, he produced at the Society of British Musicians his first important work, a Symphony in F minor, and in 1836 his fine Overture 'Chevy Chase.' In August 1838 his 'Devil's Opera,' produced at the English Opera House, Lyceum, at once drew public attention to him. In 1840 he produced at Drury Lane an 'Emblematical Tribute on the Queen's Marriage,' and also edited, for the Musical Antiquarian Society, Purcell's opera 'Dido and Æneas.' In 1843 he became secretary of the Handel Society, for which he edited 'Belshazzar,' 'Judas Maccabeus,' and 'Jephthah.' In Jan. 1845 he directed the successful production of Mendelssohn's 'Antigone' at Covent Garden Theatre. In 1846 his opera, 'Don Quixote,' was successfully produced at Drury Lane, and in 1849 his opera, 'Charles II.' was given at the Princess's. His serenata, 'The Sleeper Awakened,' was brought out at the National Concerts at Her Majesty's theatre in 1851, and in the same year he composed his fine cantata, 'Lenora.' His beautiful cantata, 'May Day,' was written for Bradford Festival, 1856, and his cantata, 'Christmas,' was composed in 1859. He then resumed the composition of opera, and brought out 'Robin Hood' at Her Majesty's Theatre in 1860, with great success. This was followed by 'Freya's Gift,' masque, and 'Jessy Lea,' opera, 1863; 'She stoops to conquer,' 'The Soldier's Legacy,' and 'Helvellyn,' operas, 1864. Dr. Macfarren's vision had at a comparatively early age become impaired; the malady increased year by year, until it terminated in total blindness. But this calamity did not diminish his exertions; and with extraordinary energy he continued to perform his duties as a professor at the Royal Academy of Music, and to compose, dictating his compositions to an amanuensis. On Oct. 23, 1873, his oratorio, 'St. John the Baptist,' was produced at the Bristol Festival with marked success. On March 16, 1875, he was elected Professor of Music at Cambridge on the death of Sterndale Bennett, and has greatly distinguished himself by the manner in which he has performed the duties of the office. In April following he accumulated the degrees of Bachelor and Doctor of Music. About the same time he was appointed Principal of the Royal Academy of Music. 'The Resurrection,' oratorio, was produced at Birmingham Festival in 1876, 'Joseph,' oratorio, at Leeds Festival in 1877; and 'The Lady of the Lake,' a cantata, at Glasgow, on Nov. 15, 1877. Besides the before-mentioned works Dr. Macfarren's compositions are very numerous; they include a cathedral service, anthems, chants and psalm tunes, and 'Introits for the Holy Days and Seasons of the English Church,' 1866; 'Songs in a Cornfield,' 1868; 'Shakspere Songs for 4 voices,' 1860–4; Songs from Lane's ' Arabian Nights,' and Kingsley's and Tennyson's poems; very many songs, duets, etc., overtures to 'The Merchant of Venice,' 'Romeo and Juliet,' 'Hamlet,' 'Chevy Chase' (already mentioned), and 'Don Carlos'; symphonies, string quartets and a quintet; a concerto for violin and orchestra; and sonatas for pianoforte alone and in combination with other instruments. He harmonised the airs in Chappell's 'Popular Music of the Olden Time,' and arranged 'Moore's Irish Melodies,' 1859, and Scotch Songs. He has also appeared as a writer on music and music critic, having produced 'Rudiments of Harmony,' 1860, and 'Six Lectures on Harmony,' 1867; Analyses of oratorios etc., for the Sacred Harmonic Society, 1853–7; and of orchestral works for the programme books of the Philharmonic Society, 1869–71; also many articles in 'The Musical World,' and lives of musicians for the 'Imperial Dictionary of Universal Biography.' He has lectured at the Royal and London Institutions. As Professor at Cambridge and Principal of the Royal Academy of Music, Dr. Macfarren stands at the head of English musicians. He shares with Sterndale Bennett and Sullivan the rare distinction, for an Englishman, of having had his works performed at the Gewandhaus Concerts of Leipzig and elsewhere in Germany. His industry and fertility under the greatest drawbacks are marvellous. His great kindness, and his readiness to communicate his vast knowledge and the stores of his capacious and retentive memory to all who require them, are well known, and have endeared him to a large circle of friends and admirers.

Natalia Macfarren, his wife, contralto singer and able teacher, is also well known by her translations of opera libretti and other works.

Walter Cecil Macfarren, his brother, born Aug. 28, 1826, chorister of Westminster Abbey under James Turle from 1836 to 1841, and pupil of the Royal Academy of Music from 1842 to 1846, studied the pianoforte under W. H. Holmes, and composition under his brother, G. A. Macfarren, and Cipriani Potter. He was appointed a professor at the Academy in 1846 and conductor of its concerts in 1873. He was elected a director of the Philharmonic Society in 1868 and its treasurer in 1876. He has composed 2 Church Services and a number of chants and hymn tunes; overtures, 'Beppo,' 'A Winter's Tale,' 'Hero and Leander,' and 'Pastoral'; a pianoforte concerto; sonatas for pianoforte alone and in combination with other instruments; songs both sacred and secular; many madrigals and part-songs; and numerous pieces of all kinds for pianoforte. He has edited Mozart's pianoforte works, Beethoven's sonatas, and the extensive series of pianoforte pieces known as ' Popular Classics.'

[ W. H. H. ]

Appendix p.707:

Add that his oratorio 'King David' was produced at the Leeds Festival, 1883, and that in the same year he received the honour of knighthood. He died Oct. 31, 1887, his last published work being an Andante and Rondo in E for violin and organ, contained in the 'Organist's Quarterly Journal' for Oct. 1887. A cantata for female voices 'Around the Hearth,' was published posthumously. As Principal of the Royal Academy of Music, Sir G. A. Macfarren was succeeded in 1888 by Dr. A. C. Mackenzie, and as Professor of Music at Cambridge, by Dr. C. Villiers Stanford.

[ M. ]