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The Dowie Dens o' Yarrow
The Dowie Dens o’ Yarrow illustrates a famous ballad printed in the score and reproduced below. It starts with the same rhythmic energy as Land of the Mountain and the Flood—an energy derived directly from Scottish traditional rhythmic characteristics. It then proceeds to pull large tufts from Wagner’s mane, and yet the Scottishness of the piece is never subdued. The expansive second subject shared by oboe and clarinet gradually works up to heraldic statements of the robust theme of young knighthood. But the young knight’s self-confidence is interrupted by a dark moment of hesitation implying the implacable hatred of his sweetheart’s brothers. The opening material re-asserts itself, but after such a pregnant gap it is clear that a false note has been struck and the music turns the same brilliant strident idea into a dirge. This is the dirge of epic events, rather than of an individual tragedy, and so it is that the final statement of the work is in the major key, confirming the triumph of nobility. This is not a subtle piece; but it is a strong one—as bald as the ballad tradition which it evokes with a directness of purpose that is the essence of MacCunn and which commands respect.

Late at e’en, drinking the wine,
And ere they paid the lawing,
They set a combat them between,
To fight it in the dawing.
‘What though you be my sister’s lord
We’ll cross our swords to-morrow.’
‘What though my wife your sister be,
I’ll meet ye then on Yarrow.’
‘O stay at hame, my noble lord,
O stay at hame, my marrow!
My cruel brother will you betray
On the dowie houms o’ Yarrow.’
‘O fare ye weel, my ladye gaye!
O fare ye weel, my Sarah!
For I maun gae, though I ne’er return
Frae the dowie dens o’ Yarrow.’
As he gaed up the Tennie’s bank,
I wot he gaed wi’ sorrow,
Till down in a den, he spied nine armed men,
On the dowie houms o’ Yarrow.
‘If I see all, ye’re nine to ane;
And that’s an unequal marrow;
Yet will I fight, while lasts my brand,
On the bonnie banks o’ Yarrow.’
Four has he hurt, and five has slain,
On the bloody braes o’ Yarrow,
Till that stubborn knight came him behind,
And ran his body through.
As she sped down yon high, high hill,
She gaed wi’ dool and sorrow,
And in the den spied ten slain men,
On the dowie banks o’ Yarrow.
She kissed his cheek, she kaimed his hair,
She searched his wounds all thorough.
She kissed them, till her lips grew red,
On the dowie houms o’ Yarrow.
She kissed his lips, she kaimed his hair,
As aft she had dune before, O;
And there wi’ grief her beart did break
In the dowie dens o’ Yarrow.

from notes by John Purser © 1995

Track-specific metadata
Details for CDA66815 track 2
Recording date
7 April 1995
Recording venue
Govan Town Hall, Glasgow, Scotland
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Tony Kime
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