Part 1: Lento
Part 2: Misurato
Part 3: Andante con moto
Part 4: Vivace
Robert Burns was no less affected by the legend than others. His verses set to the old Scotch marching tune of Hey Tutti Tatti open famously with the words, ‘Scots wha’ hae wi’ Wallace bled …’. That tune has led Scottish troops, both regular and mercenary, to battle in every corner of the globe; it led Joan of Arc to the gates of Orléans and beyond; it has established itself as one of the world’s most powerful musical and poetic icons; but its association with William Wallace is entirely due to Burns who recognized its appropriateness to a theme dear to his heart.
For Wallace’s namesake, the composer William Wallace, the anniversary was an opportunity of national importance, not to be missed. He rose to the occasion with Sir William Wallace, a work of powerful celebration, first performed under Sir Henry Wood on 19 September at the Queen’s Hall Promenade Concerts.
It is probably deliberate on the composer’s part that there remains something unsaid at the end of the piece. In 1905 there was little sign of a Scottish National movement, and any reference to Wallace’s final end would have been less that celebratory anyway—Wallace was the architect of his nation’s freedom but, like Moses, he did not live to enter into his promised land. By his own people he was betrayed into the hands of the English who executed and dismembered him, displaying his mutilated parts and making up in thoroughness what they lacked in chivalry.
But the significance of the date and the coincidence of the name could not be denied. The music is splendidly direct, as befits the celebration of a great military hero. The main theme is derived from ‘Scots wha’ hae’; but the tune only emerges overtly at the end, Wallace himself pointing out that this was a reversal of the usual form. There is no programme to the work, which falls into four sections, but the brooding opening has pre-echoes of the main theme, and it seems as though the awareness of a national identity is slowly emerging, mirrored musically by the use of pentatonic motifs.
from notes by John Purser © 1996