Of all Bantock’s Hebrides-inspired works, the Hebridean Symphony
is undoubtedly the finest and most powerful. It was completed in 1913 and first performed, under the composer’s baton, on 14 February 1916 at a concert in Glasgow. It made an immediate impression and was among the first batch of British works to be published in full score by the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust. Like the Celtic Symphony
it is cast in one continuous movement, but the division into separate sections is now more obvious, for each section has its own programme. Thus the opening is dreamy and atmospheric, conjuring up images of sea mist and ancient legend, pierced by the sudden magnificence of bright sunlight. Brief hints of distant storm provide an effective contrast. The principal theme for this section is derived from ‘The Seagull of the Land-under-Waves’, heard first as a low murmur in the basses but gradually involving the entire orchestra in a Tristan-esque outburst of great splendour. The section ends as quietly as it began, merging gradually into a species of violent scherzo—beginning with a heaving string passage that swells into a raging storm. Out of the turmoil loom marauding ships: the opening bars of the song ‘Kishmul’s Galley’ resplendent on unison horns. This, the third section of the symphony, exploits the brass with a virtuosity worthy of Janáek and culminates in a powerful climax as the trumpets repeat over and over again a three-note motif derived from a Highland pipe tune, ‘The Pibroch of Donnail Dhu’, in graphic description of the clansmen gathering to ward off the invaders. The symphony’s opening section then returns in a passage of wistful melancholy that ushers in the final section in which the last of the Hebridean songs, the ‘Harris Love Lament’, is quietly announced by the horns and gradually expanded into a Bardic Song of Victory. A final coda that touches upon all the main themes brings the symphony to its conclusion—Bantock’s Hebridean vision fading into the silence from which it emerged.
from notes by Michael Hurd © 1991