The Tay

The Tay

The River Tay is the longest river in Scotland, flowing about 120 miles from its source on the north slopes of Ben Lui to the North Sea beyond the city of Dundee.  I’ve selected four places in the course of the river as the inspiration for the music.


The piece opens high on the slopes of Ben Lui, a 1,130 metre high mountain in the southern Highlands of Scotland at the head of Glen Fyne.  It can be a bleak place, and in the opening of the piece we hear eagles gracefully circling the mountain. Rain begins to fall, gets heavier and then dies away, and we return to the eagles as they continue their flight.



The second place of interest in this musical tour appears once the river has passed through Loch Tay and Kenmore and arrives at Dunkeld. This small town has beautiful cathedral sitting on the northern bank of the river. Built in square-stone style of predominantly grey sandstone, the cathedral proper which is dedicated to St Cuthbert was begun in 1260 and completed in 1501, although it dates back to the ninth century. The building is represented musically by a simple hymn-like tune.


As the river flows on, it reaches the city of Perth.  Perth was well established by the 12th century, became a burgh in 1106 and a royal burgh in 1210. Until about 1452 it served as the capital of Scotland and was therefore both a frequent royal residence and a centre of government. One of the less well-known aspects of its history was the Battle of the North Inch which was staged between the Chattan Confederation and the "Clan Kay" in September 1396. 30 men were selected to represent each side in front of spectators that included King Robert III of Scotland and his court, on land that is now the North Inch park in Perth, Scotland. I have chosen to represent this as a kind of ghostly reminiscence rather than as a full-on battle.  The musical material is a simple march which imagines the battling clansmen assembling to parade through the town to the North Inch, where the eventual carnage would take place.  The music then fades away and leads into the final section of the piece as the river flows on once again.



The final stop on this journey is the city of Dundee.  I imagine the city from the River Tay as it wakens on a still summer morning.  The opening section uses as its inspiration the magnificent new Victoria and Albert museum designed by the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. There is a nod to his Japanese origins in the modal writing at this stage. But there is also more than a nod to Dundee’s history – as exemplified by the jute industry. The “rain” motif from the opening Ben Lui section of the piece appears again, this time representing the rhythms of the jute production as a background to the famous “Jute Mill Song”. That is in turn followed by the same rhythm picking up in intensity to represent a train ploughing across the old Tay Bridge towards Dundee, and the catastrophe of 1879 in which a storm destroyed the bridge with the loss of 59 lives as the train plunged into the river.


The coda combines various themes from the piece, culminating in a majestic finale as the River flows on and out towards the North Sea. 

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Listen to the complete piece here