Programme notes


Writings on music by John Fallas







Arvo Pärt (b. 1935)

My Heart’s in the Highlands (2000)


If less overtly folk-like than MacMillan’s settings, Arvo Pärt’s treatment of a Burns lyric, ‘Farewell to the Highlands’, is still essentially strophic, albeit in a particularly subtle way. Pärt transforms the familiar text by way of a compositional approach which is at once simple and radical, and whose expressive consequences are fascinating.


The voice sings only the three notes of a rising F minor arpeggio, staying on a single pitch throughout each verse and then returning downwards in the final stanza. The organ provides an alternative form of difference within repetition – its measured permutations of two or three types of basic material (a broken chord; stepwise motion in the bass; a rising or falling fifth crossing over above the melody) are the varied backdrop against which the apparently unvarying vocal line takes on three-dimensional qualities. Within this context the smallest event assumes great significance, and the sense of absence, of loss, of quiet undercurrents of emotion constrained by the formality of the utterance, is palpable throughout.


© 2009 John Fallas


[from the booklet notes to Scotland at Night: settings of Scottish poetry from Robert Burns to Alexander McCall Smith (Delphian Records, 2009)]




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