Songs of Robert Burns: an entertainment for Soprano and Tenor soloists set to tunes of the poet’s own choosing and accompanied by Flute, Oboe, Violin, Viola, Cello, Harpsichord and Percussion
Joanie Brittingham, soprano
Thomas Rowell, tenor
Andra Bohnet, flutes
Tom Morley, violin and pochette
Jonathan Clark, viola
Barbara Gabriel, cello
Rebecca Mindock, oboe
Laura Noah, percussion
Brian Joyce, harpsichord
Robert Burns (1759-1796), Scotland’s national bard, produced a wealth of poetry and song during his lifetime. Joyce has selected eleven songs which tell a story of courtship and the passage of time.
Program notes from the composer Brian Joyce:
In 1975 I wrote - or at least started to write - a small set of songs with texts by Robert Burns. These were intended for tenor voice accompanied by recorder, oboe, three viola da gambas and harpsichord, with all new (original to me) music. I chose to set poems covering a broad miscellany of topics, including Green Grow the Rashes, Ae Fond Kiss, A Highland Welcome, Lassie wi’ the Lint-White Locks, Of a’ The Airts, Willie Brewed a Peck o’ Maut, and The Lovely Lass of Inverness.
In 2010 I revisited the songs and made a number of significant changes:
- I threw out all but two of the poems and added eight new ones. A ninth was added later, quite literally as an afterthought.
- Finding that many of Burns’ most poignant and most humorous songs were written from a woman’s point of view, I quickly decided to add a soprano to the mix. This greatly increased the dramatic possibilities of the Songs as a whole!
- I also decided to use melodies of Burns’ own choosing, most of which can be found in James Johnson’s Scots Musical Museum, published in six volumes from 1787 to 1803. (I was unaware of these in 1975.)
- I revised the accompaniment, substituting modern strings for the less common gambas, and adding percussion.
- I filled out the entire set with dances and other instrumental movements.
In short, I completely rewrote the Songs, recycling some of the older music as I was able. All songs now have the common theme of “loove” (about which Burns has written a great deal!) The songs progress from youthful courtship to a look back over a long and (mostly) happy marriage. That Burns did not intend for these particular poems to go together is evident from the fact that the characters’ names change from one song to another! (Thus Peggy becomes Nancy and, still later, Jean; Jamie becomes John Anderson.) For me, the protagonists represent every couple pursuing their own “happy ending” and a slight confusion in individual names may perhaps be forgiven.
Here, then, are a selection of Burns’ poems, set to the tunes he himself desired. The music combines many things which I personally enjoy: 18th Century classicism (Burns was a contemporary of Mozart), Celtic music, Baroque, Renaissance, and even Medieval textures and sonorities, plus a healthy dose of more modern compositional techniques such as shifting meters, polytonality and nontertian harmony. Despite the polystylism involved, I believe the songs and dances hold together quite nicely and will make for a fine evening’s entertainment.