|Sullivan > Major Works > 1867 > "Marmion" Overture
The Philharmonic Concerts (in the Hanover-square Rooms) appear to be going on this year as prosperously as the staunchest advocates of our most ancient and honoured musical society could desire. The new conductor, Mr. W. G. Cusins, becomes more and more familiar with his task; and it is now the general impression that in their patriotic resolve to appoint an English musician to the post the directors could not possibly have fixed upon a more competent man.
The two symphonies at the sixth concert – Mozart’s so-called Jupiter (in C, No. 6 of the “grand symphonies,” 49th and last of the symphonies actually composed), and Beethoven’s in F, No. 8 – were both admirably played, the well known scherzo in the last being asked for again and repeated.
The two overtures were Weber’s Oberon and Mr. Arthur S. Sullivan’s Marmion. About the first we need say nothing. Of the last, written expressly for the Philharmonic Concerts, we have much pleasure in saying that it is another step in advance on the part of the only composer of any remarkable promise that just at present we can boast. In choosing Scott’s Marmion for a subject it would naturally be supposed that Mr. Sullivan had determined upon writing what is understood by a “programme-overture.” But, happily, he has avoided that rock upon which so many ardent composers have been split. True, if the overture had been announced as “Overture to The Merchant of Venice,” people might have asked what it could by any means have in common with the play. But it might serve just as well for an overture to Harold the Dauntless; or, The Bridal of Tricomaine, and be none the less interesting. As for what the Germans call “character-overtures,” there is, perhaps, but one in existence, and that one is Beethoven’s Coriolan. Egmont is a dramatic overture, and tells in its way a story; so does Mendelssohn’s Ruy Blas; but, as a musical personification, the Coriolan of Beethoven stands alone, and the only pity is that it was not composed for the wonderful play of Shakespeare, instead of for a forgotten German tragedy (“trauerspiel”) by a certain Colin (in 1807).
Mr. Sullivan’s Marmion has no pretensions to a “character-overture.” Nevertheless, it is eminently picturesque, and has, here and there, just enough of the Scottish turn of melody to suggest so much of the Scottish element as is an ingredient in the story of Marmion. It consists of a highly interesting introduction, in slow measure, and a spirited and well worked out quick movement. The themes are clear and striking, the treatment broad and ingenious, and the orchestration masterly. In short, Mr. Sullivan has composed a new work calculated to enhance the reputation so well earned by his overture In Memoriam, which created so great an effect at the last Norwich Festival, and again at two different performances in the Crystal Palace.
Everything that comes from the pen of our young English composer is naturally watched with keen interest; and we are always glad to be able to say, on the apparition of one work after another, that his motto is still “Excelsior.” The overture to Marmion was well played, under the direction of Mr. Cusins, and received with genuine and unanimous marks of approval.
The concerto at this performance was the new one of Mr. Benedict, in E flat, for pianoforte, which, not long since, won golden opinions at the Crystal Palace, and which was received with just the same enthusiasm by the more exclusive and difficult patrons of the Philharmonic Society.
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