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Land of the mountain and the flood

8 November 1886

Land of the Mountain and the Flood is a tour de force for any composer—for a teenager it is a staggering achievement. The work was completed on 8 November 1886 when MacCunn was only eighteen. Here was a young man stepping out of the shadow of Mendelssohn’s, Bruch’s and Mackenzie’s Scottish works, assaulting London with a brilliant conviction of what it was to be Scottish and European at the same time—but with this major difference: of the four he was the only one whose childhood and musical upbringing at that point had been largely in Scotland.

MacCunn, in this work, overtly claims the status due to him as a representative of the ancient bardic orders. The title tells us so. It is taken from Sir Walter Scott’s The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Canto Sixth, and is the reply of the last minstrel to the suggestions at the end of the Fifth Canto:

After due pause, they bade him tell,
Why he, who touch’d the harp so well,
Should thus, with ill-rewarded toil,
Wander a poor and thankless soil,
When the more generous Southern land
Would well requite his skilful hand.
High was the sound as thus again
The Bard resum’d his minstrel strain.
The aged Harper, howsoe’er
His only friend, his harp, was dear,
Lik’d not to hear it rank’d so high
Above his flowing poesy:
Less lik’d he still that scornful jeer
Mispris’d the land he lov’d so dear;

It is to these lines that Land of the Mountain and the Flood is the reply. It is MacCunn’s ‘minstrel strain’, and it claims (just as Scott did) the bardic status, and the concern of both men that music should be the sister art of poetry rather than an abstract claimant of independent ways. This is very much a bardic assertion—in Celtic languages the distinction between music and poetry is relatively recent and unclear, and though MacCunn did not attempt to write his own texts, he chose to compose almost entirely in vocal forms or music illustrative of some ballad or suggestive of a scene. Finally, the bard’s reply asserts an unwavering love of Scotland. In MacCunn’s case this was made all the more significant by the fact that he was now in London, in ‘the more generous Southern land’.

MacCunn’s claim was an international as well as a national one. The whole of literary Europe knew the work of Sir Walter Scott. Composers from Schubert to Berlioz, Beethoven to Bizet, Donizetti to Mendelssohn, had set his poems and novels in song, opera, and concert overture. Scott had in essence created the genre of the historical novel. And poems such as The Lay of the Last Minstrel also carried with them the aura of the mythical bard Ossian who, in the works of Macpherson, had deeply affected Napoleon, Goethe, Holderlin, and many others through translations into Italian, German, French, Dutch and Russian. Yet no composer had dared to set the immortal lines of the bard’s reply in Scott’s poem:

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d,
As home his footsteps he hath turn’d,
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no Minstrel raptures swell …
O Caledonia! stern and wild,
Meet nurse for a poetic child!
Land of brown heath and shaggy wood,
Land of the mountain and the flood …

That MacCunn was such a poetic child is powerfully demonstrated by this piece. The form is as conventional as any bardic form, but the ideas are fresh and distinctive. The rugged rhythms at the start, and the pentatonic openings to the first and second subjects, both stated in the tenor and contralto rather than the usual soprano register, suggest the voice of the mountains in both the dark and the gentle moods of a Scottish musical vernacular. A vigorous passage leads to a beautiful pastoral version of the second subject; but as the development gets under way it is clear from the rumbling pedal note and gradual increase of pace that the wild horses of the land of the flood are ready to be unleashed. The recapitulation is regular and the coda exhibits an uninhibited and splendid pride.

from notes by John Purser © 1995

Pour un compositeur quelqu’il soit, Land of the Mountain and the Flood représente déjà un tour de force mais pour un adolescent, c’est un véritable exploit. L’œuvre fut achevée le 8 novembre 1886 alors que MacCunn n’avait que dix-huit ans, et lui valut de sortir de l’hombre des œuvres de Mendelssohn, Bruch et Mackenzie pour s’emparer de Londres tout en sachant très bien ce que cela représentait d’être à la fois écossais et européen. Mais il y avait une différence importante: de ces quatre compositeurs il était le seul dont l’enfance et l’éducation s’étaient déroulées en grande partie en Écosse.

extrait des notes rédigées par John Purser © 1995
Français: Thierry Matutzu

Land of the Mountain and the Flood wäre für jeden Komponisten eine tour de force—für einen Teenager war es jedoch eine erstaunliche Leistung. Am 8. November 1886 war das Werk vollendet; damals war MacCunn gerade achtzehn Jahre alt. Hier präsentierte sich ein junger Mann, der aus dem Schatten der schottischen Werke von Mendelssohn, Bruch und Mackenzie trat und London im Sturm nahm, mit einer brillanten Überzeugung davon, was es bedeutet, zugleich Schotte und Europäer zu sein, aber mit einem wesentlichen Unterschied—von den vier Komponisten war er der einzige, der seine Kindheit in Schottland verbracht und auch seine musikalische Ausbildung bis dahin zum größten Teil dort erhalten hatte.

aus dem Begleittext von John Purser © 1995
Deutsch: Cornelia Schroeder


MacCunn: Land of the mountain and the flood & other orchestral works

Track-specific metadata for CDA66815 track 1

Recording date
7 April 1995
Recording venue
Govan Town Hall, Glasgow, Scotland
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Tony Kime
Hyperion usage
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