Welcome to Hyperion Records, an independent British classical label devoted to presenting high-quality recordings of music of all styles and from all periods from the twelfth century to the twenty-first.
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Burns is justifiably revered as perhaps the most famous of Scotsmen, but his contribution to music is perhaps less acknowledged. From 1786 he gathered material for James Johnson’s The Scots Musical Museum and later for George Thomson who was in touch with Beethoven and Haydn among many other continental composers. Unlike Beethoven, Burns worked for Thomson without payment, considering such activities to be his duty as a Scotsman. This involved the collection of folksong from oral sources and from all over the country; at the time he probably had a greater knowledge of original Scots melody than any man alive. He composed lyrics to existing tunes as well as changing, adapting and completing fragments of existing verse. He was also responsible for composing and completing melodies, although the extent of this work will probably never be known. Instead of ruining the original sources (as a man less uncannily in tune with the spirit of Scots poetry and music might have done) he preserved and purified material which would otherwise have become corrupt or forgotten. He was almost single-handedly responsible for the preservation of Scots folk culture in lyrics of abiding beauty and memorability.
Byron said ‘The rank of Burns is the very first of his art’. Goethe, alerted to Burns’s work by Thomas Carlyle in 1828, saluted Burns as the ‘first of lyricists’. Like Goethe, Burns regarded his own life and character, his natural impulses, as the very raw material of art. His work shows a seriousness and gravity which counterbalances his tearaway side, as well as an astonishingly modern viewpoint which scorns eighteenth-century niceties of class differentiation and religious propriety. When the church reprimanded him for fornication he was able to reply: ‘The Kirk an’ the State may gang to Hell, but I’ll gang to my Anna’. Goethe’s approbation was quickly followed by translations of Burns’s poetry by various German poets, and Schumann was clearly entranced with the lyrics. It is clear that even in translation Burns’s poems seemed to the composer like the natural and unstilted reactions of a modern man, a real Mensch. (Goethe had felt the same when first encountering Shakespeare.)
from notes by Graham Johnson ©