There is nothing better to warm a cold wintry night than a dram and a Scottish tune. So, as we look forward to Burns Night on January 25, we highlight some of the best creatives from Scotland and other great works inspired by the lands north of the wall.
Peter Maxwell-Davies: A Spell for Green Corn: The MacDonald Dances (1993)
Violin and Orchestra, 19 mins
Davies's dancing concerto, in his more tonal style, imagines the Orkney fiddler following a route from field to field, from dance to dance, accompanied by a bunch of companions in the form of an orchestra. As the music goes on, so it gets brighter and livelier as the fields glow with new life. A modern compliment to Finzi and Vaughan Williams.
Judith Weir: Sketches from a Bagpiper’s Album (1984)
Clarinet and Piano, 9 mins
These three pieces form a very short instrumental opera based on the life of James Reid, a bagpiper in Prince Charlie’s Jacobite army, who was captured by the English in 1746 and executed, after a judge had classified the bagpipes as a weapon.
Thea Musgrave: Songs for a Winter’s Evening (1995)
Soprano and Orchestra, 21 mins
Setting Robert Burns, the cycle describes the ‘events’ in the life of a woman, from the flirtatious young girl to the young woman betrayed, to her eventual fulfilment in the mature love which has lasted for many years. A modern classic of an orchestral song cycle.
Richard Rodney Bennett: Reflections on a Scottish Folk Song (2004)
Cello and Orchestra, 27 mins
Commissioned by HRH Prince of Wales in memory of his grandmother, who spent much of her childhood at Glamis Castle in Angus, Scotland, Rodney Bennett based his tribute on Burns’ famous tune ‘Ca’ the Yowes’. The set of 'Reflections' are treated freely in a continuous sequence of self-contained musical paragraphs: an Arioso in a flowing 5/8 time, a scherzo-like Vivo, an alternating Con brio, and a final section in the slow triple-time dance rhythm of the Sarabande to conclude.
Helen Grime: Everyone Sang (2010)
Large Orchestra, 10 mins
This exuberant BBC Scottish Symphony 75th birthday piece by Aberdeenshire composer Helen Grime brings out the joyful, chattering voices of each of the orchestral players. The title of the piece comes after the poem by Siegfried Sassoon, which seemed to resonate with the images of song, unity and hope central the work – all appropriate sentiments for a dark mid-winter night!
Stuart McCrae: Gravity (2009)
Orchestra, 12 mins
Abstract or impressionist ideas often form the inspiration for Inverness-born composer Stuart MacRae. In this, his companion piece to Brahms’ Symphony No. 2, he follows the master’s tendency to flit and dissolve between groupings of instruments, leading the ear around the orchestra. All its materials and directions were held together and balanced by invisible threads or forces, without which they would spin off in different directions - hence the title, Gravity.
Listen on SoundCloud
Paul Mealor: Ae Fond Kiss (2014)
SATB Divisi, 3 mins
Aberdeen-based composer Paul Mealor provides direct and moving music to Burns’ sorrowful words of parting in this simple choral work. Opened with a soprano solo of the famous tune and closing with a baritone repeating the line in reply, this is a beautiful closing piece for choir.
Malcolm Arnold: Four Scottish Dances (1957)
Orchestra, 9 mins
Although Scottish traditional music is not wanting for tunes, Arnold was a master of melody in his own right. Three dances are based on original melodies, the other written by Robert Burns. The first dance is in the style of a slow strathspey. The second, is a lively reel. The third dance is in the style of a Hebridean song and attempts to give an impression of the sea and mountain scenery on a calm summer’s day. The last dance is a lively fling, chiefly on the open strings of the violins.
Zbigniew Preisner: Aberdeen (2000)
Solo piano, 2 mins
A moving piano moment from the Preisner’s score to Norwegian film ‘Aberdeen’ staring Stellan Skarsgård and Lena Headey. A mum dying in Aberdeen, Scotland, asks her wayward daughter to get her estranged, alcoholic dad in Oslo, Norway, to Aberdeen. He's drunk at the airport, so they travel together by car and ferry.
Craig Armstrong: One Minute (2005)
Large Orchestra, 15 Mins
Armstrong was inspired by the directness of Haiku poetry in his commissioning for the re-opening of Perth Concert Hall in 2005. Fifteen impressions of places in Scotland, from Jura to Kirkwall and from Govan to Perth, fit together in strict harmonic planning and arch from tonality through chromaticism back to tonality ending in a sense of return to No. 15: ‘Perth’.