Makaris: Wisps in the Dell

About

In the late-classical era, composers including Beethoven, Weber, and Haydn were commissioned to orchestrate traditional Scottish folk songs in their original English. A lush sampling of these songs are performed here by Makaris, a new early-music super-group (made up of members of ACRONYM and New Vintage Baroque, among others), and headed by soprano Fiona Gillespie. Included are first recordings of arrangements by Pleyel and Hummel, the first English-language recording of a Scottish ballad by Schubert, and never-before-heard alternate versions of two arrangements by Beethoven, along with a world premiere by Makaris bassist Doug Balliett.

Audio

# Audio Title/Composer(s) Time
Total Time 67:52
01The Burning of Auchindoun
The Burning of Auchindoun
2:13
02True-hearted Was He
True-hearted Was He
1:50
03Dermot & Shelah
Dermot & Shelah
2:43
04I Do Confess Thou Art Sae Fair
I Do Confess Thou Art Sae Fair
2:40
05Come Draw We Round a Cheerful Ring
Come Draw We Round a Cheerful Ring
1:28
06Edward
Edward
5:53
07My Love She’s But a Lassie Yet
My Love She’s But a Lassie Yet
1:45
08Sunset
Sunset
3:40
09The Ewe Bughts
The Ewe Bughts
2:05
10Jock o’ Hazeldean
Jock o’ Hazeldean
2:44
11Jenny Dang the Weaver
Jenny Dang the Weaver
1:50
12On the Massacre of Glencoe
On the Massacre of Glencoe
6:11
13Pho Pox o’ this Nonsense
Pho Pox o’ this Nonsense
1:55
14The Last Rose of Summer
The Last Rose of Summer
4:03
15My Boy Tammy
My Boy Tammy
3:48
16Sweet Annie
Sweet Annie
3:04
17The Soothing Shade of Gloaming
The Soothing Shade of Gloaming
2:51
18Bonny Laddie, Highland Laddie
Bonny Laddie, Highland Laddie
1:44
19From Thee, Eliza
From Thee, Eliza
3:17
20Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot
Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot
3:25
21Lochaber
Lochaber
1:55
22The Bonnie House o’ Airlie
The Bonnie House o’ Airlie
4:16
23Come Fill, Fill My Good Fellow
Come Fill, Fill My Good Fellow
2:32

Throughout the eighteenth century, British publishers produced a significant number of collections of traditional Scottish songs, often arranged for classical instruments but generally including at most a melody over a bass line. Francesco Geminiani (1687–1762) wrote in his Treatise of Good Taste in the Art of Musick that the original folk music had been “intirely rude and barbarous”—by which he likely meant modal, like the traditional version of The Burning of Achindoun recorded here—and he praised a fellow composer for finding a way “to civilize it and inspire it with all the native Gallantry of the SCOTISH Nation.” Over the following several generations, more composers would undertake to refine these folk tunes into increasingly complex art songs.

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) had been in London for a short time when he met the music publisher William Napier (c.1740–1812), who had just declared bankruptcy despite the success of his recent Selection of Scots Songs, set by several local composers. Apparently as a gift to Napier, Haydn arranged 100 songs, which Napier published in 1792 as Volume II of the series and saved himself from debtor’s prison. Fifty further songs from Haydn comprised Volume III of Napier’s collection, which he published during Haydn’s next visit to London. Haydn’s arrangements of My Boy Tammy and I Do Confess come respectively from these second and third volumes. Napier’s introduction to his collections noted that “the original Words, to many of the Songs, being unfit to a work of this nature,” had been rewritten with the help of “several gentlemen, distinguished in the literary world.”

A Dissertation on the Scottish Music by William Tytler (1711–1792) provides an indication of this era’s performance practice of such arrangements, making explicit that the music need not be played precisely as notated; he encouraged the addition of instrumental introductory verses and codas and noted: “Where, with a fine voice, is joined some skill in instrumental music ... the performer may show his taste and fancy on the instrument, varying ad libitum.” This treatise was reprinted several times into the nineteenth century, and it was excerpted in the preface to at least one publication of Scottish folk song arrangements.

Full program notes available in the CD and digital editions.

  • Engineered, produced, and mastered by Ryan Streber, Oktaven Audio
  • Edited by Kivie Cahn-Lipman, Fiona Gillespie, and Ryan Streber
  • Program notes by Kivie Cahn-Lipman
  • Song annotations by Fiona Gillespie
  • Design by Marc Wolf
  • Cover: Irrlichter (Will o’ the Wisp), 1903, by Gustav Klimt

Thanks to Dongsok Shin, Kyle Miller, and Caroline Giassi. Special thanks to Mark Zimmer and The Unheard Beethoven project (www.unheardbeethoven.org) for introducing us (and furnishing parts) to the previously unrecorded versions of Massacre of Glencoe and Bonny Laddie. Extra special thanks to Fred Tauber and the Avaloch Farm Music Institute (avalochfarmmusic.org) for housing us and feeding us while we learned and workshopped this repertoire. This recording—and many more like it—would not exist without your generosity.

Makaris

A makar (pl. makaris) was the name given to the royal court troubadours of medieval Scotland. The term was resurrected centuries later to refer to the literary giants of the Edinburgh Enlightenment, and it is used today to describe a Scottish bard or poet.

02 Oct, 2020

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Reviews

5

Fanfare

Makaris: Wisps in the Dell is a collection of Scottish folk songs as arranged by various prominent German and Austrian composers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Upon Haydn’s initial arrival to London in 1791, he met the music publisher William Napier. Haydn subsequently arranged 150 Scottish folk songs for Napier, the sale of which rescued the publisher from debtor’s prison. The Edinburgh publisher George Thomson followed Napier’s example, and commissioned numerous prominent composers (including Haydn) to create their own arrangements of Scottish folk songs. Both Napier and Thomson took issue with some of the lyrics contained in the songs, and called upon various poets to assist in revising the lyrics. In the case of Thomson, one of his collaborators was Robert Burns. As the liner notes explain: “A makar (pl. makaris) was the name given to royal court troubadours of medieval Scotland. The term was resurrected centuries later to refer to the literary giants of the Edinburgh Enlightenment, and it is used today to describe a Scottish bard or poet.” The American-based musicians who perform on Makaris made the recording in New York, following a residency at Avaloch Music Institute, and a performance at the Electric Earth Concert Series.

The arrangements comprise purely instrumental works, settings for voice and keyboard, and settings for voice with various instrumental combinations. The disc also includes, as the penultimate track, an arrangement by bassist Doug Balliett of The Bonnie House o’ Airlie, featuring a decidedly modern, and charming, take on the accompaniment. The remaining songs are cast in the idiom of the early 19th century, and make for lovely, pleasurable listening. The performances are superb. Soprano Fiona Gillespie adopts a non-classical style of vocal production, without vibrato. Gillespie’s tonal quality is consistently beautiful and haunting, her intonation is spot on, and her Scottish-inflected diction crystal-clear, and she sings with great feeling throughout. From time to time, Gillespie is joined in harmony by Emi Ferguson, and by the entire ensemble in the rousing version of Come Fill, Fill My Good Fellow (arr. Beethoven) that concludes the disc. All of the other instrumentalists are first-rate. There is never a sense of routine in any of the songs. Indeed, the artists’ identification with, and enthusiasm for, this repertoire is infectious. The recording is marvelous, with a sense of immediacy that evokes the atmosphere of a gathering of friends, sharing the joy of music. I had a grand time listening to the disc, and will most certainly return to it often, both for solo listening, and sharing with friends. Detailed, informative, and beautifully written liner notes by Kivie Cahn-Lipman, and full texts (with extensive annotations) complement this first-class project. This repertoire may not be for all Fanfare listeners, but if it does fall within your area of interest, I promise that Makaris will give you great pleasure. Highly recommended.

— Ken Meltzer, 3.09.2020

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