HAMISH MacCUNN (1868-1916) The Land of the Mountain and the Flood (1886)

Hamish MacCunn was one of Scotland’s most distinguished musicians. As one of the first students to gain a scholarship to the Royal College of Music he studied in London with the twin pillars of the British musical establishment, Parry and Stanford, and later taught at the Royal Academy and the Guildhall School of Music.

Like a number of other similar RCM students, such as Vaughan Williams, his instinct moved him away from the somewhat Brahms-influenced teaching he had received and he developed his own voice, becoming a respected composer of operas which drew on his Scottish literary heritage, his masterpiece being Jeanie Deans, based on the central character of Sir Walter Scott’s Heart of Midlothian.

He also became a distinguished conductor, working for many years with the famous Carl Rosa Opera Company, whose mission was to present opera in English, and thus it came about that he was entrusted with conducting the first English-language performances of Wagner’s Tristan and lsolde. Sadly MacCunn died at the early age of 48 having ruined his health through overwork.

The Land of the Mountain and the Flood, written in 1887 while he was still a teenager, is a concert overture which expresses the spirit of Scotland as Finlandia had done for Finland, but without the same defiant agenda. The title also comes from Scott — The Lay (Song) of the Last Minstrel.

0 Caledonia! Stern and wild,

Meet nurse for a poetic child!

Land of the heath and the shaggy wood,

Land of the mountain and the flood…..

It begins with a typically Scottish melody incorporating ‘Scotch snaps’ and rapidly develops into a more symphonic style. Its chief lyric melody may well be familiar to those who recall the 1970s Scottish TV series Sutherland’s Law, starring Ian Cuthbertson. The development begins with galloping strings over which the brass provide a more rollicking version of the opening theme. The work ends in a blaze of Scottishness!

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