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Robert Burns Lives!
The Centre for Robert Burns Studies is happy to announce the launch of a new website! by Dr. Vivien Williams

Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Dawsonville, GA, USA

There are so many good Burnsians “out there” and I must tell you about one I met via email over the past few days. I received a message last week from my editor and “boss”, Alastair McIntyre, advising of the new Burns Choral Project at the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Robert Burns Studies. I contacted a friend at the centre and immediately my email was passed along to the appropriate party. Then “boom” - like a split of lightening in the darkness of a moonless and starless night - I received a response from someone unknown to me offering information I needed for the article. And remarkably, after further contact, she even offered to write the article herself. So today Dr. Vivien Williams, a graduate of the University of Bari (Italy), founded in 1925, will explain the project to us. The University at Bari has a student population of approximately 60,000 and is one of the most prestigious universities in southern Italy.

Dr Williams, “born half an Italian, and bred a whole one”, was brought up in an Anglo-Italian family in Apulia, the ‘heel’ of Italy’s ‘boot’. She has always actively pursued her interests in literature and has won a number of literary prizes, both national and international, for short stories and poetic translations. Since her teens she cultivated an interest in the bagpipe, and in 2010 she moved to Glasgow to embark on her Ph.D. and completed it with a thesis on ‘The Cultural History of the Bagpipe in Britain, 1680-1840’.

Dr. Vivien Williams talking about her thesis

Dr. Williams has been very busy since coming on board at the University of Glasgow. She is currently a Research Assistant in musicology at the Centre for Robert Burns Studies, working on the project ‘Editing Robert Burns for the 21st Century’. She also tutors in Scottish Literature and English Literature. Vivien is the co-author of the Anglophone civilization book ACCESS to Great Britain and the English-speaking World (2007), and her chapter ‘“All the Bagpipes in the World are here, and they fill Heaven and Earth”: the Bagpipe in the Romantic Construction of Scottish Identity’ will be available later in 2014 in the collection Assembling Identities. And last but not least, Dr. Williams is a Hunterian Associate with a project on Bagpipes in Art.

When I asked if it might be possible for her to get the article to me by Wednesday of this week, she quickly replied: “Dear Frank, sure, I'll start working on the piece right now! And I'll make sure it's with you, together with the rest of the material, by Wednesday.” So hats off to someone I did not know who had the information to me by today, Monday, not Wednesday. I have been referring to her all week as “my newest best friend!” (6.16.14, FRS)

The Centre for Robert Burns Studies is happy to announce
the launch of a new website!
Article By Dr. Vivien Williams

Dr. Vivien Williams

This new interactive resource is one of the main outcomes of the project ‘Robert Burns Choral Settings – from Schumann to MacMillan’, supported by the University of Glasgow’s Chancellor’s Fund and the CRBS. The Chapel Choir at the University of Glasgow has recorded performances of a selection of choral settings of Robert Burns’ songs for streaming. Our interactive website provides information about each of the settings and their composers.

The recordings feature a range of original compositions and arrangements of traditional tunes, which by no means claim to make up a comprehensive list of all the choral material available for Robert Burns’ songs. The aim was, in fact, to give a sample of the different musical inspiration Burns has been the centre of right from the initial publication of his works. For the Project, only twenty songs have been selected, by fourteen different composers, from the early nineteenth century to present day.

Chapel Choir performing some of the project songs on 30th January 2014

The earliest setting in our range is Thomas Attwood’s glee ‘A Rose-Bud by my Early Walk’, and it probably one of the earliest choral composition of a Burns song (c. 1819). The piece is very much in line with the tastes of the time, as glees were very fashionable after the second half of the eighteenth century.

But composers have not necessarily adhered to tradition – even in their choice of text. André Gedalge in fact set to music ‘Combien Triste et Longue’ (‘How Lang and Dreary is the Night’) with a French text by Henri Potez who was a close friend of Auguste Angellier, one of Burns’ most active French translators. His selection of text is unusual, and we have not located any other settings of this text by other European composers. Also quite fascinating is Robert Schumann’s choice to set Burns’ ‘Address to the Toothache’, which is titled ‘Zahnweh’. This piece comes from a series of five works (Fünf Lieder) of unaccompanied part-songs for mixed voices on Robert Burns’ texts. Schumann was very taken by the lyrical side of Burns’ poetry, so the ‘Address to the Toothache’ makes quite an atypical selection. It is truly remarkable that composers and musicians worldwide have found inspiration in Burns’ work: they really do reveal the universality of the Bard’s poetic and musical voice.

One of the highlights of the project is that it features two world premieres: ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ and ‘The Deuk’s Dang o’er my Daddie, O’, by Francis George Scott. We have found the scores for these compositions in holograph manuscripts held at the Scottish Music Centre. There were various versions of the manuscripts, in different states of completions: after a long work on a reconstruction of what may have been the final piece Scott had in mind, the scores had to be typeset for recording. To our knowledge it is the first time these pieces have ever been performed.

University of Glasgow Chapel Choir

Of course Burns’ musical inspiration was not exhausted with the twentieth century, and indeed composers today keep finding in the Bard new creative stimuli. From James MacMillan's 'So Deep' and 'The Gallant Weaver', to Tommy Fowler's avant-garde 'Tam's Moral' and Glasgow University graduate Katy Cooper’s ‘A Man’s a Man’ – each musical creation has taken Burns’ work to different places entirely: linguistically, musically, and culturally.

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