To know any art thoroughly is to grow up in it; in occupying later an executive position the man who has experienced the obstacles incident to the life of the great majority in pursuing that art has a paramount advantage. Both these conditions have been fulfilled by Sir Alexander Campbell Mackenzie, and to these and to the gift of executive ability of a high degree must be attributed the success of the Royal Academy of Music under his direction, which began in 1888.
Born in Edinburgh, in 1847, he was sent by his father, a violinist of repute under whom he had studied the instrument, to Sondershausen, in Germany, and placed in the house of the Stadt-Musiker Bartel. Three years later he was given a position as second violin in the Ducal orchestra, where he received a thorough schooling in opera, concert, and general theater work. Returning to London in 1862 he became a pupil of Sainton at the Royal Academy, winning, in the same year, the King’s Scholarship. During his period of study in London he played in many of the metropolitan orchestras, and has been, as he expresses it, “through the mill.”
To this experience of being cast so largely upon his own resources may be ascribed the strong interest that he takes in the practical advancement of the young musicians under him, the Royal Academy being represented by present and former students in every orchestra of importance in London, from the Philharmonic down.
At the close of his studies at the academy young Mackenzie went to Edinburgh, where he conducted orchestral concerts over a period of ten years, and assisted in quartet concerts with Joachim, Lady Hallé, and Wilhelmj, and conducted several choral societies. It was on the advice of von Bülow and August Manns, of the Crystal Palace orchestra, that he gave up the strong position that he had made for himself and retired to Florence to devote himself entirely to composition. During his stay there he produced “The Bride,” for the Worcester Festival, “Jason,” for the Bristol Festival, the opera of “Colombo,” for Drury Lane Theater, and “The Rose of Sharon” for the Norwich Festival, and given for the first time in 1888. Again returning to London, he conducted a series of orchestral concerts, during which period he had conferred upon him the degree of Mus. Doc. by St. Andrew’s, the oldest university in Scotland. At the time of Sir George Macfarren’s death Mackenzie was in Italy engaged on an important musical work, and giving no thought to any future connection with the Royal Academy. On learning of the withdrawal for that position of Mr. Walter Macfarren, brother of the former principal, he entered the ranks as a competitor for the post and was elected in 1888. Since that time his energies have been mainly devoted to the welfare of the institution, which he has brought into its present flourishing condition.
At the time that he assumed charge of things it had fallen behind the times; hence the foundation of the Royal College of Music. To-day the academy stands for the progressive in spirit and has regained the immediate patronage of the King, who stands toward it in much the same relation as that sustained by him toward the Royal Academy of Painting. Two names in the teachers’ list of the institution are especially familiar ones, those of Emile Sauret, the violinist, whose hold upon the American public is a strong one, and Signor Alberto Randegger.
During his incumbency Sir Alexander has added materially to the tremendous lot of scholarships which have benefited many of the best men turned out by the academy, receiving at a recent date fifteen endowed by Mrs. Sam Lewis. Sauret, Corder (composition master), Albanesi (pianoforte), Hartwicksen, White, Richards (organ), Wessel, and Blaba (violin) are among the numberless additions made by him to the teachers’ list.
Sir Alexander conducted the Philharmonic concerts from 1893 to 1899, and has placed to his credit a long list of compositions in almost every field of musical writing. The latest of these comprise “Scottish” concerto for the pianoforte, written for Paderewski; the music to “The Little Minister,” “Manfred,” and “Coriolanus,” the two last named for Sir Henry Irving’s productions at the Lyceum; an opera “The Cricket on the Hearth,” founded on Dickens’ story; “Coronation March” for grand orchestra, the dedication of which has been accepted by the King, who had it privately performed at Marlborough House, and an orchestral suite, “London, Day by Day.”
Additional degrees that have been conferred upon him are those of Mus. Doc. by the universites of Cambridge and Edinburgh, and LL.D. by the University of Glasgow. In 1895 he was knighted.
So much briefly for the busy career of the man whose direction has gone to make the Royal Academy what it is today.
But another important phase, that of personality, must be considered in this connection. The man at the head of an institution leaves upon it an impress of himself more or less accentuated according to his degree of forcefulness either in the direction of right or wrong. The two high traits of Sir Alexander Mackenzie’s character that are, perhaps, in this respect most fully evidenced are untiring energy and cheerfulness. There is a Scotch heartiness in his daily associations, and a Scotch keenness of foresight in his executive management. His humor and wit have given him a unique place among his colleagues; but alongside of these and a marked simplicity of manner is a dignity that is always fully sustained.
In speaking for publication in The Etude of the Royal Academy (whose students have numbered Barnby, Sullivan, Goring Thomas, Edward German, and many more of note), and of certain educational features and the position of the British composer today, Sir Alexander Mackenzie said:
Students from all Parts of the World.
“The students are recruited from England, India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, the United States, France, and Germany. From South Africa we have a great many, and a good many from Germany. Antonetti, an Italian, and a pupil of the institution, has made a famous position for himself in Germany. I am especially pleased with the way that those pupils from New Zealand and Australia have been taught, sections of the empire in which former students of the academy settled. The academy had conducted local examinations all over the country for years, and after I entered upon my position I went to the Royal College and offered to join with them and put these examinations on a different footing, elevating the standard and extending the privilege to the colonies. We now, together, send two examiners all over the colonies, except India. Instead of remaining on rival lines I considered it best to work in harmony, and it has proved in all respects a good idea.
“All students of the Royal Academy, no matter what branch of music they may select to study, must take up the piano, unless they play so well that I absolve them. But not one in five hundred gets off. After all, that poor piano is a useful instrument. To one who can help himself on the piano all musical literature is open. To-day it is necessary to be an all-around musician, and composition is looked at from another point of view to that from which it was once generally regarded. To-day no singer can make a success without being a musician. A Melba with phenomenal vocal equipment may prove the exception, but for those who may be regarded as the upper middle rank, that thorough musical training is an inevitable necessity.
“We train teachers and governesses. The bulk of the students become professionals. Only a large institution can give the exceptional advantages of orchestra, etc. Perhaps twelve first-class people are reaping the advantages of all these things, and the balance are being trained for what they are fitted. But if we had only to teach geniuses we could do it in a small flat anywhere, but we could have no orchestra. We also train teachers. The best of our pupils when they advance become subprofessors. Their fees are then reduced and they work out a certain amount under their professors. Learning to impart knowledge under supervision, their pupils are in turn examined every term, and we soon find out who is good and who is not.
Opportunities for Professional Work.
“A remarkable fact is this: Persons talk about the musical profession’s being overcrowded, but everyone worth his salt is getting something to do; they all seem to get work. I am rarely successful in inducing pupils to go to the colonies except for their health, and those who have gone have done exceedingly well. Many excellent offers come from the colonies, but, as I said, I find difficulty in getting them to leave; they all seem to find work here. Music is growing. Of course, it is not like the law, in which tens of thousands are made, but there are many in music who earn a modest four or five hundred pounds a year. It strikes me that the musical profession is no worse than any other profession. There are some who have not got the gift of getting on, but that is not the fault of the music.
“Tact and manners are required to get on; more is demanded in this respect than in the past, and there is an enormous difference in the class that now comes to study, in style, manners, and tone. It did not always used to be that way.
“There is a great change in the amateur world. Our school is kept full by the fact that a large number of persons send their children to be educated musically instead of, as in former days, to study privately. They are not intended to be professionals, but desire a thorough musical education and to know what they are getting. This has been the case for the last six or seven years, and accounts for the large numbers enrolled. But the most of them are serious; they subscribe to all rules and regulations and behave as musical students. All to the good of music.
“These existing conditions prevent many from going abroad, a course that is now not followed so much. With the exception of the simple benefit of the language they acquire, there is absolutely no necessity for the music student to leave London. Concerts may be more expensive, but in London you hear everything. In this direction pupils of the academy have a distinct advantage, being given tickets for the Philharmonic and other concerts at a reduced rate and for the opera gratis, besides the enormous number of tickets sent in that we do not care to use.
“As regards to teaching itself, we have no fixed methods as in Paris, where the instrumentalists have all to do the same exercises and the singers the same studies. I leave all to the individual teacher according to his own methods. Of course, at examinations a set of things is given out.
“There is no ranking of teachers; the man who makes the best pupils is the first professor. From being far back my endeavor has been to bring things fully up to time; any. Tuesday you may hear the most modern orchestral music at the Royal Academy in programs that range from Mozart to Tschaikowsky. The plan is to let pupils hear everything. Students’ work is brought out in these concerts if it meets the requirements, and the facilities of choir, solo voices, and orchestra allowed. A large percentage take up composition now, and the number of clever fellows has increased with the facilities. W. H. Bell is one of the latest, and there are a good many of promise.
The Young Composer.
“The composer is worse off than any other branch. If he writes the highest and best, he cannot publish, and he must teach or sing low to get a living. The music now published, however, is much better than was the case in the past, and there has been a great awakening and extraordinary change in the last fifteen years. There is hardly an orchestra in London in which pupils are not playing during their term of study. For such students I make allowances in regard to certain duties; for I have been through the mill myself, having played in nearly every theater here during my student-days, and I know how it is.
“I sometimes wish that the British nation were a little more patriotic. If such performers as Peppercorn and Ellsler were foreign girls they would be carried on the hands. It is the same with singers. You go into society and hear indifferent foreign singers, while superior native singers are pooh-poohed. English singers get little encouragement at home; it is an up-hill fight.
“As to composition, we have quite a remarkable little school in which every man seems to have a nose of his own; you cannot compare any two of us. Take Elgar and Stanford, for instance; there is no comparing them, yet the technic of each is admirable. In that respect we are farther forward than Germany, where one man writes like the other and it is either Wagner or Brahms that shines through. Whether this be due with us to different nationalities, Celts and Anglo-Saxons—and the Celts are in the majority,—no one type predominates, and that with us is most hopeful.
“If we had a national opera it would be a different story. If they say that we have no English opera the reply may be made that we have no field to grow one on. The wonder is that so much has been done. The field of opera that in every other country popularizes good music is sternly denied us. Against these conditions we have been hammering away for a long time.”