An island race may well consider the sea as the Great Mother. The sea is a bulwark against invasion, a bounteous giver of prosperity, and, at the last, a purifier of all sorrows.
NATIONAL ORCHESTRA OF WALES
(Cerddcrfa Genedlaethol Cymru)
Conducted by REGINALD REDMAN
NOT until near the end of the eighteenth century was any senoiis attempt made to write down the old melodies of the Highlands and Islands. About 1760 the Rev. Patrick MacDonald and his brother made a collection of airs which they published, and, though they probably differed a great deal in their written form from the traditional way in which they had been sung for countless generations, they still held much of the wild, simple beauty which no other music has in quite the same degree. The MacDonalds themselves realized how difficult it was to sot down these old melodies with any fidelity, pointing out that, in listening to them, it is almost impossible to form a clear impression of their rhythm. Irregularity of rhythm is, indeed, the most striking feature of the tunes. To that, however, there is one serious and striking exception-the boat sonsrs and tunes sung at various kinds of work, as accompaniment to rhythmic movements. In them, by contrast with the old narrative or contemplative songs, rhythm is strongly marked.
Since the MacDonnlds' day many collections have appeared, and one of the most notable was a volume published in 1876 by the Gaelic Society of London. It has some beautiful old tunes, and some which have much of the simplicity and strength of early days, though in many cases the tunes have obviously been modernized almost beyond recognition.
In our own time Mrs. Kennedy-Fraser has done very valuable work in rescuing and transcribing many of the tunes which would soon have been lost and forgotten but for her enthusiasm. No one can tell at this date how near her arrangements come to the genuine original forms, but they do observe to a remarkable degree what we have grown to regard as the spirit of Hebridean music.
LIKE more than one of his gifted compatriots,
Rimsky-Korsakov began his career as a musician from the -amateur's point of view. Born in that class of Russian society whose sons have a choice of only two careers, ho was a sailor until his thirtieth year. Even after his fine musicianship had earned him the appointment of Professor of Composition in the Petrograd Conservatoire, he carried on its duties for some time without relinquishing his rank on the active list of the Navy. That there was nothing amateurish in his musical equipment is by now very clearly recognized. Ho is known as one of the most brilliant members of the modem Russian school, whose work combines something of Eastern gorgeousness with the sombre traits of the Slav character. Oriental subjects always had a strong fascination for him, and in this movement the East, with its blazing sunshine and its brilliance of colour, is vividly presented in the music.
The subject is, of course, from the ' Arabian
Nights,' and the composer has prefaced his score with the following note :
' The Sultan Schahriar , convinced of the infidelity of the whole race of women, has sworn to send each of his wives to death after only one bridal night. But Scheherezade saves her life by interesting him in tales, which she recounts one after another for one thousand and ono nights. Impelled by curiosity, the Sultan puts off from day to day the fato of the lady, and ends, as all the world knows, by renouncing his bloodthirsty intention.'
The first of the stories which is used is ' The
Sea and Sinbad's Vessel.' It begins with a robust tune which clearly indicates the furious Sultan. The running phrase on the violin, which follows, is as clearly Scheherazade herself, and then a tranquil section in 6-4 time is the telling of the story. The wrath of the Sultan is heard again, and Scheherazade's seductive pleading, both mingling with the story in a very interesting way, and at the very end a soft presentment of the Sultan's theme tells us that for the moment, at least, the lady has won.