Thistles and Roses (2019)

September 17th, 2019

Thistles and Roses (2019)

Three settings of Iain Crichton Smith

  1. John Knox
  2. At a Ceilidh
  3. Culloden and After


Baritone and Piano

fp . 25 October 2019; Jeremy Huw Williams, Bandeen Hall, Bishop’s University, Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada

Thistles and Roses (2019) (PDF)


Thistles and Roses is a setting of three songs to texts by Scottish poet Iain Crichton Smith (1928-1998) taken from his 1961 collection of the same name. Smith’s poems are bleak, but humorous and highlight many of the injustices faced by Scotland over the centuries and seeks to admonish many of those individuals who may have contributed to the nation’s misfortunes. The poems are not always the easiest to set to music, but there is a drama and a power in the words that drew me to attempting to make something musically appropriate and coherent that would bring something different to these texts.

Like many of my song-cycles, there are three songs: two declamatory, recitative-style pieces bookend a more melodic and humorous middle movement. The opening song ‘John Knox’ is built entirely of the ‘bells jangles in St Andrew’s town’ that Smith describes, bells are present throughout in all registers of the piano (tolling a tritone or seventh) and pervade the movements that follow. The second song ‘At a Céilidh’ seeks to enhance Smith’s stark portrayal of this musical event and the inimitable ‘Miss M.’. The final song ‘Culloden and After’ is a desensitised take on one of the most emotive events in modern Scottish history, with a rapid-fire delivery from the baritone alternating with much more melancholy (and famous) musical material.

Each song features a musical quotation from an extant work to create another layer of musical argument, similar to how Smith layers his poetry with different meanings and characters. The first song features snippets of plainchant, the second a famous jig and the final song a Scottish ballad known the world over.


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