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Music Text

Robert Burns (Scots)



Abbreviations (PDF)


Boosey & Hawkes

This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.


World Premiere
Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Scottish Chamber Orchestra / SCO Chorus / Maxim Emelyanychev
Composer's Notes

Composed in August is a song-cum-poem by Robert Burns, better known today by its opening line Now Westlin Winds. It is one of the Scottish poet’s earliest songs although he revised it several times. The first version was in more standard English, written around 1775 when Burns was only 16. It is a love song coloured by a sense of autumn. In fact, the poet’s love of nature is contrasted and interwoven with his love of a young woman.

The first of the five stanzas in my setting begins with flowing ripples on violas and cellos before the main theme is enunciated by the horns. The choir takes this up - it is influenced by Scottish folk song.

The second stanza (“The paitrick lo’es the fruitfu fells”) places this main theme in the bass section of the choir while the upper parts become more ornate and fluid. Two repeating chords in the strings begin to oscillate as “birdcalls” begin in the woodwind. A new melodic shape emerges for the third stanza (“Thus ev’ry kind their pleasure find”) as the music becomes more animated - the autumn hunt is now being described by Burns and the accompanying music is now more violent. Short instrumental episodes take the music from one stanza to the next.

The fourth stanza (“But Peggy dear”) is more serene and canon-like between the choral parts with a countermelody floating above on the violins. The cellos rise to their highest register and pass their material on to antiphonal oboes which accompany the beginning of the final stanza (“We’ll gently walk, and sweetly talk”) where we hear the return of the opening melody again. The work ends with restful humming in the voices as they fade away to silence.

James MacMillan, 2024

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