Hamish MacCunn: The Land of the Mountain and the Flood
Scottish Romantic composer Hamish MacCunn (1868-1916) was always intrigued with Scottish landscapes. Although he lived in London for a long time, MacCunn was a lifelong champion of Scottish folk songs, music and the incredible landscapes. He composed The Land of the Mountain and the Flood in 1887. The work is a concert overture for orchestra, and in true Scottish style, it depicts a Romantic view of Scottish landscapes.
The title is taken from Sir Walter Scott’s The Lay of the Last Minstrel:
O Caledonia! Stern and wild,
Meet nurse for a poetic child!
Land of the heath and shaggy wood,
Land of the mountain and the flood,
Land of my sires! What a mortal hand
Can e’er untie the filial band
That knits me to thy rugged strand!
The premiere of the work saw many critics commenting on the work, with George Bernard Shaw saying that:
“Mr MacCunn’s Land of the Mountain and the Flood, a charming Scotch overture that carries you over the hills and far away, was much applauded. I object, by the bye, to the “working out” section, which Mr MacCunn would never have written if his tutors had not put it into his head. I know a lady who keeps a typewriting establishment. Under my advice she is completing arrangements for supplying middle sections and recapitulations for overtures and symphonies at twopence a bar, on being supplied with the first section and coda.”
The overture gained more success many years later in 1968, when it came to the attention of EMI, who included a recording of it on the LP Music of the Four Countries. The work was then used in the 1970s as the theme for the BBC series Sutherland’s Law.
Although Shaw called out MacCunn’s writing in the middle section of The Land of the Mountain and the Flood, the piece has remained the composer’s most popular. From Romantic swirls across the orchestra, to MacCunn’s engaging melodic writing, the work exudes pastoral thinking and highlights MacCunn’s love for Scottish folk songs.
The bouncy opening is infectious in character, and this theme is soon passed around different sections of the orchestra. The lower brass accompaniments also add to the fairly low-level drama that MacCunn was going for. Hunting horns can be heard between the lyrical sections, adding to this idea of pastoral writing.
The catchy string melody that sings out is perhaps one of the reasons that this work has remained popular. Soaring into the upper registers, the melody is emotive and evocative of the Scottish landscape. The climax in the middle of the work adds to the grandeur of the overall picture. Perhaps majestic mountains or vast lakes of water are being illustrated here.
MacCunn’s style is poetic and although the form of the work is not out of the ordinary for this type of piece, the musical content is fresh and distinctive. The gentle, but somewhat dark, atmospheres swell with the more triumphant, offering food for thought for the listeners. As the pace begins to pick up near the end of the work, the rumbling pedal notes increase as the section is building up. Some have likened this to wild horses running across the land, with the end of the piece exhibiting Scottish pride that was evidently important to MacCunn.
Hamish MacCunn’s The Land of the Mountain and the Flood pays homage to the incredible Scottish scenery. From the majestic mountain ranges, to the vast lakes and wild horses, this work, in just 10 minutes, gives you a true taste of what Scotland has to offer.
Ⓒ Alex Burns
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