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.
|01||The Burning of Auchindoun|
The Burning of Auchindoun
|02||True-hearted Was He|
True-hearted Was He
|03||Dermot & Shelah|
Dermot & Shelah
|04||I Do Confess Thou Art Sae Fair|
I Do Confess Thou Art Sae Fair
|05||Come Draw We Round a Cheerful Ring|
Come Draw We Round a Cheerful Ring
|07||My Love She’s But a Lassie Yet|
My Love She’s But a Lassie Yet
|09||The Ewe Bughts|
The Ewe Bughts
|10||Jock o’ Hazeldean|
Jock o’ Hazeldean
|11||Jenny Dang the Weaver|
Jenny Dang the Weaver
|12||On the Massacre of Glencoe|
On the Massacre of Glencoe
|13||Pho Pox o’ this Nonsense|
Pho Pox o’ this Nonsense
|14||The Last Rose of Summer|
The Last Rose of Summer
|15||My Boy Tammy|
My Boy Tammy
|17||The Soothing Shade of Gloaming|
The Soothing Shade of Gloaming
|18||Bonny Laddie, Highland Laddie|
Bonny Laddie, Highland Laddie
|19||From Thee, Eliza|
From Thee, Eliza
|20||Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot|
Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot
|22||The Bonnie House o’ Airlie|
The Bonnie House o’ Airlie
|23||Come Fill, Fill My Good Fellow|
Come Fill, Fill My Good Fellow
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.
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 formed in 2018 and the following year released its first disc, Wisps in the Dell, to critical international acclaim. (“Absolutely wonderful … one of the very best releases of 2019” —MusicWeb International; “Marvelous … Highly recommended”—Fanfare; “Delightful … a winning combination”—Early Music Review.) The ensemble’s second recording was the EP Tam Lin, a modern fairytale folk opera composed by Fiona Gillespie and Elliot Cole.
A makar (pl. makaris) was a royal court troubadour of medieval Scotland; the term was resurrected centuries later and is used now to describe a Scottish bard or poet.
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