• Judith Weir
  • Scotch Minstrelsy (1982)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the McEwan Bequest, University of Glasgow

  • pf
  • Tenor [Soprano]
  • 13 min

Programme Note

Scotch Minstrelsy is a song cycle comprising settings of five (greatly abbreviated) Scottish ballads whose subject matter is almost exclusively violent happenings which take place against the beautiful background of the Scottish countryside. It was my intention to reflect this underlying irony in the way the words are set to music.

The work was commissioned by the McEwan Bequest and first performed by Neil Mackie and John Blakely at Glasgow University in 1982.

1. Bessie Bell and Mary Gray

(To avoid an outbreak of the plague in Perth in 1645, these two ladies built themselves a bower by the banks of the River Almond; but the plague eventually spread even to this remote region, and they succumbed to it.)

Bessie Bell and Mary Gray
They were two bonny lasses,
They biggit a bow'r on the banks of the river,
And theekit it over with rashes, O!

They theekit it over with rashes green,
They theekit it over with heather;
The plague came into the river bank,
And slew them both together.

2. Bonnie James Campbell

It's up in the highlands, along the sweet Tay,
Bonnie James Campbell rode many a day;
He saddled, he bridled, and gallant rode he,
And home came his good horse but never came he.

Out came his old mother a-crying full sair,
Out came his bonny bride, tearing her hair,
'My meadow lies green and my corn is unshorn
But bonny James Campbell will never return'.

Saddled and bridled and booted rode he,
A plume in his helmet, a sword at his knee,
Empty his saddle all bloody to see,
O home came his good horse, but never came he.

3. Lady Isobel and the Elf-Knight

Fair Lady Isobel sits in her bower sewing,
There she heard the Elf-Knight blowing his horn.

'If I had yon horn that I hear blowing,
And yon Elf-Knight to sleep in my bosom.'

The maiden had scarcely these words spoken,
When in at her window the Elf-Knight has luppen.

'It's a very strange matter, fair maiden' said he,
'I canna blow my horn but ye call on me.

But will ye go to yon Greenwood side?
If ye canna gaing, I will cause you to ride'.

He leapt on a horse and she on another,
And they rode on to the greenwood together.

'Light down, light down, fair lady Isobel', said he,
'We are come to the place where you are to die'.

'Have mercy, have mercy kind sir on me,
Till once my dear father and mother I see'.

'Seven king's daughters here have I slain,
And you shall be the eighth of them'.

'O sit down a while, rest your head upon my knee,
That we may have some rest before I die'.

She stroked him so softly the nearer he did creep;
With a small secret charm she lulled him fast asleep.

With his own sword belt so softly she bound him;
With his own dagger so softly she killed him.

4. The Gypsy Laddie

The gypsies came to our good lord's castle gates,
And O! but they sang sweetly, O!
They sang so sweet and complete
That down came our fair lady, O!

They gave to her the nutmeg brown,
They gave the finest ginger.
The gypsies saw her well-fared face,
And cast their glamour over her.

'Go take from me this silver cloak
And bring to me a plaidie.
I will forget my kith and kin,
And follow the gypsy laddie.

Last night I lay on a feather bed,
My wedded lord beside me;
Tonight I lie with stars and moon and sky;
Ah! Whatever shall betide me!'

(Epilogue: The Lady leaves with the gypsies, and the Lord returns..)

'Go, saddle to me the black' he said,
'The brown rides never so speedy:
And I will neither eat nor drink nor sleep,
Till I avenge my lady'.

There were fifteen valiant gypsies,
They were black, O! but they were bonny.
They are all to be hanged on a tree
For stealing our good lord's lady.

5. The Braes Of Yarrow

I dreamed a dreary dream last night
That filled my heart with sorrow:
I dreamt I pulled the heather green
Upon the braes of Yarrow.

I dreamed a dreary dream last night,
That filled my heart with sorrow:
I dreamt my love came headless home,
Upon the braes of Yarrow.

O gentle wind that bloweth south,
to where my love repaireth;
Convey a kiss from her dear mouth,
And tell me how she fareth.
© Judith Weir


Scotch Minstrelsy: No. 1. Bessie Bell and Mary Gray
Scotch Minstrelsy: No. 2. Bonnie James Campbell
Scotch Minstrelsy: No. 3. Lady Isobel and the Elf-Knight
Scotch Minstrelsy: No. 4. The Gypsy Laddie
Scotch Minstrelsy: No. 5. The Braes Of Yarrow