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Hamish MacCunn

Biography

Born: March 22, 1868; Greenock, Scotland   Died: August 2, 1916; London, England  
Hamish MacCunn was part of a small but notable group of British composers who found great favor in the concert hall and opera house at the end of the nineteenth century and near total eclipse in the twentieth century. He was also arguably the first great Scottish nationalist composer, his work even more closely identified with the land of his birth than that of his older contemporary Sir Alexander Mackenzie.

MacCunn was the son of a
Read more wealthy ship owner; both of his parents were musically inclined and encouraged him in this direction. He began composing at age five and by age 12, had written most of an oratorio. In 1883, at 15, MacCunn entered the Royal College of Music as the school's youngest student and his teachers included Sir Charles Hubert Parry and Sir Charles Villiers Stanford; by 17, however, he had left the school, bitter over being treated as a social inferior (as a Scot) by his English-born fellow students. He didn't suffer for this decision, for at 17, his overture Cior Mhor entered the repertory of conductor Sir August Manns. Soon after, inspired by Sir Walter Scott, MacCunn wrote the composition for which he is most famous, the overture The Land of the Mountain and the Flood (1887). An astonishingly bold work for an 18-year-old, the overture was more authentically "Scottish" than pieces by Mendelssohn and Bruch, while retaining a sophistication and elegance equal to the concert music of any continental European composer of the period. MacCunn was heavily influenced by the programmatic music of Franz Liszt and he turned Liszt's brand of expansive Romanticism toward his own sensibilities, formed in Scotland, and thus, became as much the Scottish nationalist composer as his younger contemporary Ralph Vaughan Williams would define English nationalism and Antonín Dvorák and Bedrich Smetana represented Czech nationalism. His later output included the overtures The Dowie Dens o' Yarrow, a Wagnerian-scale piece, and the dark, brooding The Ship o' the Fiend; choral works such as The Lay of the Last Minstrel; and song settings. He also wrote a pair of operas, Jeanie Deans and Diarmid, the former regarded as possibly the finest serious British opera of the late nineteenth century, while the latter was premiered at Covent Garden in 1897 and was selected for a Royal Command Performance before Queen Victoria.

Unfortunately for MacCunn, his career often took him away from composition; he had the responsibility of a wife and family, which required him not only to hold a teaching post at the Royal Academy of Music into the mid-1890s, but also to pursue work as an opera conductor, most notably with the Carl Rosa company. He received acclaim in all areas of the repertory, from operetta to Wagner's works. MacCunn's pace as a composer slackened as his health declined during the twentieth century. He resumed teaching in 1912 and also served as a conductor in Thomas Beecham's opera company late in his life. During the mid-teens, he was diagnosed with throat cancer and he died in 1916 at age 48. Only The Land of the Mountain and the Flood retained a place in the concert repertory in the decades that followed. In the 1990s, in tandem with the renewed interest in Britain's forgotten Romantic-era composers and the success of the Scottish Nationalists in restoring a Scottish parliament, MacCunn's music -- along with that of Mackenzie and McEwen, among others -- was rediscovered, performed anew, and recorded by Hyperion Records, which released his three major overtures and excerpts from Jeanie Deans, among other works. Read less
Browse 1-9 of 9 Available Recordings
  • 1.
    125 Years of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra
    Label: Chandos   Catalog: 241 Release Date: 06/24/2016   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Richard Wagner,  Hamish MacCunn,  Carl Nielsen,  George Enescu  ... 
    Performer:  Felicity Lott,  Lydia Mordkovitch
    Conductor:  Neeme Järvi,  Sir Alexander Gibson,  Bryden Thomson,  Matthias Bamert  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra,  Royal Scottish National Orchestra Chorus
    CD: $18.99
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  • 2.
    Good Night, Good Night, Beloved ...and Other Victorian Part Songs / Viva Voce
    Label: Atma Classique   Catalog: 22670 Release Date: 10/30/2012   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Sydney Percival,  George Alexander Macfarren,  Ciro Pinsuti,  Alfred J. Caldicott  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Viva Voce
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  • 3.
    Sae Fresh & Fair: Scottish Romantic Choral Songs
    Label: Rel   Catalog: 550 Release Date: 01/10/2012   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Traditional,  Hamish MacCunn,  Anonymous,  John Blackwood McEwen  ... 
    Performer:  Strathclyde University Chamber Choir
    Conductor:  Alan Tavener
    CD: $13.99
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  • 4.
    British Composers - Guide To Britain
    Label: Emi Classics   Catalog: 29001 Release Date: 08/23/2011   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Sir Edward Elgar,  Ralph Vaughan Williams,  Herbert Howells,  Benjamin Britten  ... 
    Performer:  Garth Benson,  Felicity Palmer,  Robert Tear,  Manuel Barrueco  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir John Barbirolli,  Boris Ord,  André Previn,  Philip Ledger  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Music Group of London,  Polyphony (Vocal Ensemble)
    CD: $17.99
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  • 5.
    Spirit Of Scotland - Berlioz, MacCunn, Arnold, Etc
    Label: Chandos   Catalog: 10412 Release Date: 04/24/2007   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Hamish MacCunn,  Giuseppe Verdi,  Malcolm Arnold,  Felix Mendelssohn  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Alexander Gibson,  Bryden Thomson
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra,  Philharmonia Orchestra
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    CD: $11.99
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  • 6.
    The Scottish Romantics - Maccunn, Mcewen, Et Al / Mclachlan
    Label: Divine Art   Catalog: 25003 Release Date: 10/24/2006   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Hamish MacCunn,  John McEwen,  Alexander Mackenzie
    Performer:  Murray McLachlan
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    CD: $17.99
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  • 7.
    Celtic Memories / The Burns Musical Society
    Label: Marquis   Catalog: 81169 Release Date: 04/09/1996   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  John Reid,  Robert MacKintosh,  Eric Robertson,  David Greenberg  ... 
    Performer:  Eric Robertson,  James Campbell,  Dave Young,  David Greenberg  ... 
    CD: $15.99
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  • 8.
    Maccunn: Land Of The Mountain And The Flood, Etc / Brabbins
    Label: Hyperion   Catalog: 66815 Release Date: 11/21/1995   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Hamish MacCunn
    Performer:  Lisa Milne,  Jamie MacDougall,  Peter Sidhom,  Stephen Gadd  ... 
    Conductor:  Martyn Brabbins
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra,  Scottish Opera Chorus
    CD: $21.99
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  • 9.
    Coleridge Taylor, Butterworth, Maccunn / Grant Llewellyn
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 436401 Release Date: 06/15/1993   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Samuel Coleridge-Taylor,  George Butterworth,  Hamish MacCunn
    Conductor:  Grant Llewellyn
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
    CD: $17.99
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