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Three Soutar Settings

James MacMillan (b. 1959)

Ruby Hughes (photo credit: Sim Canetty Clarke)

Ruby Hughes (photo credit: Sim Canetty Clarke)

Composer
James MacMillan (b. 1959)
Composition Year
1984/1994/1995
Work Movements
1. Scots Song [1984]
2. Ballad [1994]
3. The Children [1995]
Artists
Julius Drake [piano], Ruby Hughes [mezzo-soprano]

Programme Note Writer:
© Francis Humphrys

William Soutar [1898-1943] is one of the greatest poets Scotland has produced just as James MacMillan is one of Scotland’s greatest composers. Soutar contracted spondylitis while serving in the Navy and spent the last twelve years of his life bed-ridden. Much of Soutar’s poetry is steeped in Scottish folk tradition, particularly the old ballads, and he even created his own blend, for poetic purposes, of Scottish dialects that he called synthetic Scots.

These three settings each carry a heart-rending impact, in particular MacMillan’s use of unaccompanied voice, as in traditional song, while creating piano parts that act almost as a separate commentary rather than as a normal accompaniment, in particular the sometimes shattering piano postludes. Macmillan’s direct experience of the Scottish ballad from his time singing in folk clubs gives authenticity to his beautiful and poignant setting of Ballad. Soutar’s The Children was his response to the suffering and brutality of the Spanish Civil War and MacMillan in turn penned a devastating creation. The vocal line is almost entirely expressionless even child-like and unaccompanied as it tells its terrible tale, the piano part is stark and bitter until the final outburst.

Scots Song is the title given here to Soutar’s The Tryst, whose theme of a ghostly visitor returning to a former lover is the substance of many ballads. MacMillan later recalled: the composing and performing of this song made a lasting impression on me. It felt as if I had tapped into a deep reservoir of shared tradition, as my setting was quite faithful to the old ballad style. He even came back to the melody in subsequent works. The piano postlude lets us down gently.

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Three Soutar Settings

Composer: James MacMillan (b. 1959)
Performance date: Tuesday 1st July 2014
Venue: St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland

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Composer James MacMillan (b. 1959)
Work Title Three Soutar Settings
Composition Year 1984/1994/1995
Work Movements 1. Scots Song [1984]
2. Ballad [1994]
3. The Children [1995]
Artist(s) Julius Drake [piano], Ruby Hughes [mezzo-soprano]
Performance Date Tuesday 1st July 2014
Performance Venue St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland
Event Crespo Recital Series
Duration 00:14:23
Recording Engineer Richard McCullough, RTE
Instrumentation Category Duo
Instrumentation S-solo, pf
Programme Note Writer © Francis Humphrys

William Soutar [1898-1943] is one of the greatest poets Scotland has produced just as James MacMillan is one of Scotland’s greatest composers. Soutar contracted spondylitis while serving in the Navy and spent the last twelve years of his life bed-ridden. Much of Soutar’s poetry is steeped in Scottish folk tradition, particularly the old ballads, and he even created his own blend, for poetic purposes, of Scottish dialects that he called synthetic Scots.

These three settings each carry a heart-rending impact, in particular MacMillan’s use of unaccompanied voice, as in traditional song, while creating piano parts that act almost as a separate commentary rather than as a normal accompaniment, in particular the sometimes shattering piano postludes. Macmillan’s direct experience of the Scottish ballad from his time singing in folk clubs gives authenticity to his beautiful and poignant setting of Ballad. Soutar’s The Children was his response to the suffering and brutality of the Spanish Civil War and MacMillan in turn penned a devastating creation. The vocal line is almost entirely expressionless even child-like and unaccompanied as it tells its terrible tale, the piano part is stark and bitter until the final outburst.

Scots Song is the title given here to Soutar’s The Tryst, whose theme of a ghostly visitor returning to a former lover is the substance of many ballads. MacMillan later recalled: the composing and performing of this song made a lasting impression on me. It felt as if I had tapped into a deep reservoir of shared tradition, as my setting was quite faithful to the old ballad style. He even came back to the melody in subsequent works. The piano postlude lets us down gently.