This work is in essence a companion piece to my Songs for a Winter’s Evening, where the seven poems were chosen so as to create a song cycle describing the "events" in the life of a woman - from the flirtatious young girl, to the young woman betrayed, to her eventual fulfillment in mature love which has lasted many a year. Here the five poems are chosen to describe a man’s viewpoint, from raunchy, to sadness as lovers are forced to part, to true love where a young lover sings of “the lassie he loves the best”.
This commission has once again caused me to revisit my Scottish heritage. As much as this
heritage is inevitably part of my life, so, in this work, the tunes to which Burns wrote his
inimitable poems are embedded in the musical texture — sometimes in the foreground,
sometimes in the background.What is perhaps not generally known is that Burns wrote his words to existing tunes in order to preserve them. In the words of an anonymous writer in the Introduction to the Collins Gem BURNS Anthology: He (Burns) laboured (unpaid) to supply ‘words and music’ for the collections of James Johnson and George Thomson. In a very real sense Burns was as great a musician as he was a poet. He dedicated himself to rescuing from oblivion and neglect hundreds of songs without words – or with fragmentary or unsuitable words. He knew that a song without words dies. In supplying words to fit the melodies, he performed a feat unique in the history of art. And the fact that he produced some hundreds of songs in his Dumfries days is a noble tribute to his unflagging energy and dedicated labour.
The challenge facing me was how to integrate Burns' 18th century world with our own, both
emotionally and musically. Musically this meant finding a melodic and harmonic language, that, though recognizing and incorporating the original tunes, would nevertheless be heard from a contemporary viewpoint. The past can only ever be revisited with our own contemporary imagination and sensibility.
(c) Thea Musgrave