Movement 1: Rhapsody: Lento
Movement 2: Caprice. Theme: Allegretto – Variations I–IX – Coda
Movement 3: Dance: Allegro vivace – Lento – Presto
I have been here since the 1st August, enjoying the damp, cold weather and scoring a new violin piece for Sarasate in the mornings. I have just finished it ten minutes ago however, so another opus (good or bad) goes out into this world of strife. It is to come out at the Leeds Fest. but I don’t anticipate success there, as it is a Scottish effusion and likely at first at least to be mis-understanded [sic] of the people: now especially the Leeds people.
The suite may be grouped with other Scottish works by Mackenzie such as the Rhapsodie écossaise (1879), the Scotch Rhapsody No 2 ‘Burns’ (1880, recorded on), the Scottish Concerto (1897) and other smaller works whose musical idiom is derived from the use of traditional Scottish melodies. The first movement, as its title ‘Rhapsody’ suggests, has a very free structure and includes quasi-improvisational writing for the soloist with scant orchestral accompaniment. With its looseness of metre the violin figuration during this section gives the listener the feeling of an extended cadenza, although there are two discernible themes played by both soloist and orchestra which vie for attention between the elaborate cadenza-like episodes. In atmosphere it is very similar to the first movement of Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy Op 46 (1880), also written for Sarasate; indeed this and Pibroch could be considered very much as companion works.
The work’s relationship to pibroch music is shown in the second movement, ‘Caprice’. Pibroch (Scottish Gaelic ‘piobaireachd’, meaning ‘pipe music’) is often considered to be the ‘classical’ music of the Scottish bagpipe repertory, as distinct from dance music such as reels and strathspeys. Musically it is related to the idea of a theme and variations which increase in complexity as the set progresses. The theme is called the ‘urlar’ (meaning ‘ground’ in Gaelic) and is often played later in the piece to remind listeners of the basis of the pibroch. On the pipes the variations are made through the inclusion of ‘cuttings’ or ornaments between notes following formulas taken from the pibroch tradition. ‘Cuttings’ are the only way of varying the texture and rhythmic emphasis of music played on the pipes which would otherwise have uniform attack and dynamics. The ‘Caprice’ is a loose set of nine variations on the Scottish melody Three Guid Fellows combined with an orchestral introduction and smaller interludes. Between the sixth and seventh variations a more lyrical original melody appears, which is later combined with the main theme in the elaborate coda to the movement. It is linked by the soloist to the final ‘Dance’ which also uses variation techniques, though to a lesser extent than the preceding movement. The main theme of the ‘Dance’ is based on Leslies Lilt, a melody from the seventeenth-century Skene Manuscript, which is combined later with another theme in the relative minor. After several variations of the material and abrupt changes of tempo, these melodies propel the music towards the frantic Presto coda.
from notes by Duncan Barker © 1998