Overture written for Edinburgh International Festival

  • 2(pic)222/4230/timp.3perc/hp/str
  • 10 min

Programme Note

When, last autumn, I got an invitation to write a concert overture for this year's Edinburgh Festival, I was very pleased indeed, for by writing a special work I could at last say a musical 'thank you' to Scotland for the two honours I have received from Scottish universities. I greatly prize being a Doctor of Music at Edinburgh, and a Doctor of Law at Glasgow, and though this work of mine is a short and modest one, it allows me at any rate to do something in return.

I call it simply Overture Edinburgh because there are certain elements in it that bind it to the city of Edinburgh. First of all, the opening, which carries the rhythm of the word 'Edinburgh' itself. This rhythm occurs frequently throughout the work, sometimes in slow tempo, and sometimes in fast. You have it in the first bars. With its massive scoring, and the rhythm pounded out by side drums, it may perhaps suggest a vision of the castle itself on the heights.

Shortly after this opening section, listeners will recognise a tune from the Scottish Psalter, a metrical version of Psalm 124: 'Now Israel may say, and that truly, if that the Lord had not our cause maintained… then certainly they had devoured us all'. The tune is taken from the French Psalter of 1551. Of course, I use my own harmonies, and also through it surges a tempestuous rhythm, but you will at once recognise the splendid tune. I like to think that it may have been sung in the Church of St Giles during the middle of the sixteenth century, for it would then - in terms of time - provide the link to the middle section of the overture. This is devoted to Mary Stuart, and has the heading 'Pavane in memory of Mary Queen of Scots'. I recall Dr Johnson's words: 'Such a Queen as every many of any gallantry of spirit would have sacrificed his life for'.

No music for Edinburgh can leave out a reference to dancing, so the final section of my overture is characterised by reel and strathspey rhythms. I cannot possibly compete with Scotland's magnificent pipers in this, nor do I pretend that anyone not born in Scotland can give you the authentic spirit, but I feel this dance section is needed to bring the overture to a gay end.

© 1956 Sir Arthur Bliss


Bliss: Edinburgh