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Sir George Alexander Macfarren (1813-1887)
Two Songs with Clarinet Obbligato
A Widow Bird: Pack Clouds Away
Macfarren is one of the most fascinating ‘lost masters’of nineteenth-century British music. A cultured musician in every sense, he brought formidable energies to bear upon almost all aspects of mid-Victorian musical life, being at various stages Principal of the Royal Academy of Music, Professor at Cambridge, conductor at Covent Garden, programme-note writer for the Philharmonic Society and editor of Handel and Purcell. He was knighted in 1883. As a composer he was technically superior to most of his British contemporaries and, in view of the total blindness which struck him in 1860, extraordinarily productive. An output which includes eighteen operas, thirteen oratorios and cantatas, nine symphonies and one hundred and sixty-two songs might well be thought impressive by any standards. These two obbligato songs were commissioned by the great clarinettist Henry Lazarus and first performed at a Monday Popular Concert at St. James’s Hall on 4 March 1867, the singer being the Welsh soprano Edith Wynne and the pianist Julius (later Sir Julius) Benedict. The Musical World’s review of this concert, which also included the British première of Schubert’s Octet (led by Joachim) described Pack Clouds Away as ‘a true inspiration’ — it earned an encore ‘as unanimous as it was hearty’— and reported that both obbligati were ‘played in perfection by Mr. Lazarus.’
© Oliver Davies.
A Widow Bird and Pack Clouds Away have been recorded by Elaine Barry, Colin Bradbury and Oliver Davies on The Victorian Clarinet Tradition (CC0022)