CONDUCTOR'S NOTES by JOHN CURRIE
Scotland's heritage in song is one of the richest in Europe and the world. It is a heritage which stretches from the Middle Ages to the present, and which embraces the great Celtic tradition of the mountains and islands as well as the wonderfully varied songs of the Lowlands and Southern Uplands ('The Borders'). Any great folksong tradition reflects the romance, the politics, and the exuberance of a nation; the lyrics encompass public as well as personal emotions; the songs of political pride, and songs of sheer mischief and hilarity.
But what gives Scots songs their distinct flavor and peculiar emotional power? A sense of space. The songs are 'open,' often evoking the great spaces of sea and hill, and the loneliness which is a mark of the Scot and the landscape he so often deserts to Jive elsewhere. At other times the spaciousness is evoked in a hilarious open-air dance like The De'ils awa wi' th' exciseman or a subtle love-dance like Corn Rigs.
Perhaps it is the sense of space in the songs which always makes it a special pleasure to present them in arrangements for chorus and symphony orchestra. Normally the Los Angeles Master Chorale and the Sinfonia of Los Angeles present great classical, romantic and modern works of the concert-hall repertoire, but here they devote their talents to an evening of folksongs in settings which are designed to underline the spaciousness and strength of the melodies.
Many songs need no introduction: Loch Lomond and Auld Lang Syne are known and loved word-wide - although it should be mentioned that the latter is presented here in its correct version as a fine nostalgic song about friendship and friends separated by the oceans. It should be noted, too, how many of the songs have lyrics by Robert Burns. Those who love folksongs owe him a great debt as a collector of songs and old melodies, and a poet of genius who could revive and renovate a fine old lyric without destroying its earthiness and simplicity. In most of the melodies, I have used the versions found in the Scots Musical Museum, (edited by Burns) an eighteenth-century Edinburgh publication.
Less well-known beyond Scotland, perhaps, are the dance-songs: fiddle tunes or pipe tunes which combine song and dance. The De'il's Awa is the most glorious, the Piper O'Dundee a close second. Satan, usually a grotesque comic figure in the Scottish tradition, comes dancing through the town and like a Pied Piper (or rather, a Pied Fiddler) dances away with the hated exciseman, the man who makes whisky expensive. Corn Rigs, a man's song, describes, as a dance, the courting of the not unwilling Annie, until by the end of the song the title has a thousand meanings.
There are also love-songs, in many cases touched by war or political strife. Although it is nowhere stated by Burns in I'll aye ca' in by yon toun that the lover is a soldier, there are strong resemblances to the soldier's song in The Jolly Beggars. Whatever his profession, the careless jauntiness of the song seems to spring from the fact that he only calls on his girl from time to time, as duty allows, Similarly comic is the provocative woman's song O Whistle describing (somewhat over eagerly?) how she can be called out of her father's house, if Jove is promised. In more serious vein the finest of traditional Scottish love songs are represented by Willie's fair, a tragic little ballad from the Vale of Yarrow in the high hills of The Borders, and My love's in Germanie, a wonderful, intensely sad, melody which wanders over the whole range of the voice.
The Bonnie Earl o' Moray and Will ye no' comeback again are songs arising out of particular civil strives. The latter is a Jacobite song expressing fanatical devotion to Bonnie Prince Charlie, but it has become widely associated with more general nostalgia at the parting of friends. In The Bonnie Earl o' Moray, I have not used the original melody, but the dark Victorian melody which has become more widely known. Moray was a popular romantic hero. The handsomest man of his time, his ill-fated love for Scotland's Danish Queen led to his murder, and the tragedy gave rise to this powerful lament. Indeed the folk-talents of the nineteenth-century have not been neglected in this traditional program.
Lady John Scott, writing in a folk tradition, produced songs which were clearly touched by European and English Romanticism, and here we include the very fine Annie Laurie. It seemed fitting in this program, too, to include The Skye Boat Song - a folksong by a known composer and orchestrated here to underline the romance and nostalgia connected with Bonnie Prince Charlie, and the awful Scottish defeat at Culloden.
I have included two of my arrangements for unaccompanied choir: Afton Water and The Sun Rises Bright in France. The former is one of Burns best known lyrics, while the latter is a fine example of the many songs depicting the sadness of the Scottish soldier abroad. Unlike any of the other songs in the program is A Man's a Man for a' That. This is Robert Burns' great song on the equality of all human beings. In an age before the full development of democracy, an age when title, rank, and hereditary possessions determined human values and social status, Burns is voicing a dangerous sentiment, that rank and honors are vain and empty: it is the human being who matters.
Scots wha hae, which opens our concert tonight, is really the Scottish national anthem. It is Robert Burns' poetic version of Bruce's speech to his troops before the battle of Bannlockburn (1314). It is proud, arrogant, chauvinistic, bombastic - just like the Marseillaise or God Save the Queen (if you read ALL the verses). In addition, it is the world's finest bit of Anglophobia. All good clean stuff. But what a song