1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Macfarren, Sir George Alexander

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MACFARREN, SIR GEORGE ALEXANDER (1813-1887), English composer, was born in London on the 2nd of March 1813, and entered the Royal Academy of Music in 1829. A symphony by him was played at an Academy concert in 1830; for the opening of the Queen's Theatre in Tottenham Street, under the management of his father, in 1831, he wrote an overture. His Chevy Chase overture, the orchestral work by which he is perhaps best known, was written as early as 1836, and in a single night. On leaving the Academy in 1836, Macfarren was for about a year a music teacher in the Isle of Man, and wrote two unsuccessful operas. In 1837 he was appointed a professor at the Academy, and wrote his Romeo and Juliet overture. In the following year he brought out The Devil's Opera, one of his best works. In 1845 he became conductor at Covent Garden, producing the Antigone with Mendelssohn's music; his opera on Don Quixote was produced under Bunn at Drury Lane in 1846; his subsequent operas include Charles II. (1849), Robin Hood (1860), She Stoops to Conquer (1864), and Helvellyn (1864). A gradual failure of his eyesight, which had been defective from boyhood, resulted in total blindness in 1865, but he overcame the difficulties by employing an amanuensis in composition, and made hardly a break in the course of his work. He was made principal of the Royal Academy of Music in succession to Sterndale Bennett in February 1875, and in March of the same year professor of music in Cambridge University. Shortly before this he had begun a series of oratorios: St John the Baptist (Bristol, 1873); Resurrection (Birmingham, 1876); Joseph (Leeds, 1877); and King David (Leeds, 1883). In spite of their solid workmanship, and the skill with which the ideas are treated, it is difficult to hear or read them through without smiling at some of the touches of quite unconscious humour often resulting from the way in which the Biblical narratives have been, as it were, dramatized. He delivered many lectures of great and lasting value, and his theoretical works, such as the Rudiments of Harmony, and the treatise on counterpoint, will probably be remembered longer than many of his compositions. He was knighted in 1883, and died suddenly in London on the 31st of October 1887.

An excellent memoir by H. C. Banister appeared in 1891.