Helen Hopekirk

October 13, 2019


Helen Hopekirk was born in Portobello on 20th May 1856. Portobello at the time was a seaside town that later became incorporated into Edinburgh in 1896. She went to the Windsor Lodge School in Portobello and first played the piano in public there in 1868. She was then to study at the Edinburgh Institution for Young Ladies; then studying piano with the Hungarian pianist George Lichtenstein; and later with Alexander Mackenzie.

On the death of her father, she was to move to Leipzig in Germany to study composition under Carl Reinecke. She married an Edinburgh rope manufacturer William Wilson – partner of the company Lees and Wilson – and he managed her touring career as a pianist.

She toured the USA and Europe; but after her husband William was injured in a road accident, she obtained the post of the Head of the Piano Department of the New England Conservatory.

Hopekirk was to holiday back in Scotland from 1901 to 1908 where she became immersed in Highland folk songs and the poetry of Fiona Macleod.

She presented her Piano Concerto in D major with the Scottish Orchestra under Landon Ronald, back home in Scotland from 1919 to 1920. That period was her last extended stay in Scotland and she was resident in New England until her death on 19 November 1945.

Her own compositions are grounded in this Scottish tradition and she transcribed many Scottish folksongs to piano.

Her Piano Music is available on CD :

Charles O’Brien

January 6, 2018
Charles O'Brien

Charles O’Brien was born in Eastbourne, England to Edinburgh parents while they were on holiday in the Sussex town, on the 6th October 1882.

It was in Eastbourne that his parents first met:- his father Frederick O’Brien – a musician in the Eastbourne Orchestra; and his mother Elise Ware. Frederick was a founding member of the Edinburgh Musical Society and his son Charles went on to become a life-long society member.

O’Brien received his musical education first from his father; and then from Thomas Henry Collinson who was the organist at St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh and conductor of the Edinburgh Choral Union. Charles followed up this education with a Bachelor of Music degree from Oxford and a Doctorate from Trinity College, Dublin. He was also mentored in composition by Greenock composer Hamish MacCunn.

O’Brien worked in Edinburgh as an organist, conductor, pianist and music teacher. Following Collinson, he became the conductor of the Edinburgh Choral Union. He became the Director of Music at the Royal Blind School and later the Music Master of St. Serf’s School in the city.

Like his mentor MacCunn, O’Brien had a romantic style and his works were steeped in Scottish themes. For example, his overture Ellangowan was inspired by the Sir Walter Scott novel Guy Mannering and its setting.

Charles O’Brien died on the 27th June 1968. Toccata Classics has recently released a series of his works.

Selected works:-

Orchestral Music Volume 1 :

Orchestral Music Volume 2 :

Orchestral Music Volume 3 :

Piano Music Volume 1 :

Piano Music Volume 2 :

Granville Bantock

December 11, 2014
Granville Bantock

Sir Granville Bantock was born in London on the 7th August 1868. His father was the prominent Scottish surgeon and gynaecologist Dr George Granville Bantock. George’s father worked for the 2nd Duke of Sutherland, as gamekeeper and then laird, a few years after the Highland Clearances attributed to the 1st Duke of Sutherland. It is noted that the gamekeeper once offered 10 shillings each for White-tailed Eagle eggs in 1849. The Granville name was taken from the Sutherland Duke in tribute.

George Bantock tried to guide Granville into respectable professions. Granville was first enrolled into the Indian Civil Service; and then chemical engineering, but before long his father was to enrol Granville into the Royal Academy of Music.

On leaving the RAM he got a job as the editor of the New Quarterly Musical Review in 1893. In 1894 he became a conductor of light opera initially for the George Edwardes’ Gaiety Company and in 1897 he became a Musical Director of New Brighton Tower Pleasure Gardens. Then in 1900 he moved to the Birmingham and Midland Institute as Principal and in 1908 became Peyton Professor of Music at the University of Birmingham.

He became a great champion of the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. Sibelius’s 3rd Symphony is dedicated to him.

Bantock spoke several languages and studied Latin, Greek, Persian and Arabic. Some of his work is inspired by the Orient or Classical Antiquity but he is more known for the works inspired by his Scottish and Celtic roots.

His Eastern-inspired work includes the choral epic Omar Khayyám (1906–09) based on Edward Fitzgerald’s translations. The Orchestral tone poem Thalaba the Destroyer was based on the Lake Poet Robert Southey’s Arabian epic poem of the same name. Bantock was also to write Songs of Egypt, Songs of Arabia, Songs of the East, Songs of Persia, Songs of India, Songs of China and Sons of Japan based on his wife Helena Von Schweizer’s lyrics.

His Classical Antiquity-inspired work includes The Pagan Symphony (1928); his Third Symphony, The Cyprian Goddess (1938/39); The Sappho Songs and various incidental music for Greek plays including Electra (1909), Oedipus Coloneus (1911), The Birds (1946), and The Frogs (1935).

A key influence in his Scottish works is the folk song collector Marjorie Kennedy-Fraser. Her collections of the Songs of the Hebrides (1907, 1917, 1921) provided the composer with a rich vein of material which he continually used.

Before writing the Hebridean Symphony Bantock toured the Highlands and Islands. He composed the symphony in 1915 and conducted it first in Glasgow on Valentine’s Day 1916.

The opening of the Hebridean Symphony is based on the lament Ho Roinn Eile which was given to Marjorie Kennedy-Fraser by Frances Tolmie, a renowned Gaelic song collector. Altered in the symphony and renamed The Seagull of the Land-under-Waves it remains a haunting melody. The Symphony makes its way through other songs like Kishmul’s Gallery, The Pibroch of Donnail Dhu, Harris Love Lament and finally into a Song of Victory. Sections of the symphony are based on songs collected by Kennedy-Fraser: Ailein Duinn, 0-hi, Shiubhlainn Leat [Brown-haired Alan, with Thee I Would Go]; An Seachran-Gaoil [The Love Wandering]; Heman Dubh [Hebrid Seas]; and An Sgeir-Mhara [The Sea Tangle].

The Sea Reivers (1917) was first performed in 1920. It is based on Kennedy-Fraser’s arrangements of the song Na Reubairean, which was collected from Penny Macdonald of Eriskay.

The Seal-Woman (1924) is a two act opera. Kennedy-Fraser produced the libretto for this and even sang the role of ‘Old Crone’ in its first perfomance.

The Celtic Symphony (1940) makes use of another Hebridean folksong An Ionndrainn-Mhara [The Sea Longing]. It is scored for a full string orchestra including 6 harps!

These are just a selection of the composer’s Scottish-themed works. In fact Bantock became so obsessed with his Scottishness that his son Angus learned the bagpipes and another son Hamilton danced the Highland Fling and Sword Dance.

Bantock became President of the Glasgow Orpheus Choir under Sir Hugh Robertson. Robertson called him “the Laird” and wrote “the blood of Scotland flowed in his veins … a rich racial tradition, which, in his heart, he cherished”.

Bantock was given an honorary Doctorate of Music by Edinburgh University. He was knighted in 1930. He was to die on 16th October 1946. The Bantock Society was established after this to promote his work. The composer Jean Sibelius became it’s first president.

Selected works:

Hebridean and Celtic Symphonies, The Sea Reivers :

Omar Khayyám :

Pagan Symphony :

Sappho and Sapphic Poem :

The Cyprian Goddess :

Thalaba the Destroyer :

The Song of Songs :

Sheet music:

Songs-of-ScotlandSongs of Scotland :

Alastair Stout

August 28, 2013

Alastair Stout
Alastair Stout was born in Derby, England in 1975. His family moved to the Shetland Islands in 1981 and he grew up in Vidlin, around 20 miles north of Lerwick; and nearly 140 miles from the Scottish mainland and around 220 miles to Norway, as the crow flies.

He studied at the Royal College of Music (1993 – 97) with Joseph Horovitz and John Birch (winning prizes in composition, organ and music history), the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (1997 – 98) with Robert Saxton and Graham Elliot, and Royal Holloway, University of London (1998 – 2001) with Simon Holt where he graduated with a PhD in composition.

During his time in London, he became Assistant Organist at Wesley’s Chapel, the Mother Church of World Methodism.

In 1995 he won the Glasgow Orchestral Society’s Young Composer Award and in 1996 received a commission to write an anthem for the opening of the summer exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. His first String Quartet won the Gregynog Composers Award of Wales 1999.

In 2002, Alastair relocated to the USA to take up the position of Music Director at the Coraopolis United Methodist Church near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 2010 he became Director of the Pittsburgh Compline Choir. He is also Assisting Organist at St Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Highland Park, Pennsylvania.

Scottish folk music flavours his work, and he also cites diverse compositional influences like Purcell, Gesualdo, Messiaen, and Elliott Carter.

Selected works:

Deep in your coral caves :

Empty fathoms :

Eugen d’Albert

August 28, 2013
Eugen d'Albert

Eugen d’Albert was born in 4 Crescent Place, Charing Cross, Glasgow on 10 April 1864.

There seems to be a bit of confusion regarding his exact place of birth in Glasgow; some sources stating 9 Newton Place in Charing Cross, and others showing Crescent Grove in Knightswood. Hence this page resolves the issue.

Wikipedia is correct in stating that d’Albert’s birth certificate states 4 Crescent Place; also confirmed by census. His birth certificate states that 4 Crescent Place is in the Anderston district, but today that area is probably best described as in Charing Cross.


The above 1857 map shows the Charing Cross and Woodside area of Glasgow. At the bottom of the map is Crescent Place.

A closer look…


It shows that Crescent Place ran between (on left) Woodside Crescent and (on right) St. Georges Road. This stretch of St. Georges Rd is now known as North St.

Overpass where Crescent Place would be today, looking back towards Woodside Crescent from North Street

Crescent Place is unfortunately no longer in existence. It has been replaced by a pedestrian overpass which runs from Woodside Crescent to Renfrew Street. Perhaps a campaign should be started to name this overpass in honour of Eugen d’Albert!


The view north and west from Crescent Place today…


D’Albert had an English mother, Annie Rowell, and a German-born father of French and Italian descent, Charles Louis Napoléon d’Albert (1809–1886), whose ancestors included the composers Giuseppe Matteo Alberti and Domenico Alberti. D’Albert’s father was a dancer, pianist and music arranger who had been ballet-master at the King’s Theatre and at Covent Garden. He was 55 years old on Eugen’s birth and was to be his first music teacher.

At the age of 10, Eugen entered the National Training School (now the Royal College of Music) in London, where he studied piano with Ernst Pauer and theory with Sir John Stainer, Ebenezer Prout, and Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan); and achieved early success in England as a bravura pianist.

In 1881 d’Albert won the Mendelssohn Scholarship, enabling him to study in Vienna, where he met Johannes Brahms and Franz Liszt. From Austria he emigrated to Germany, becoming a pupil of the elderly Liszt and beginning a career as a concert pianist.

At the same time d’Albert focused increasingly on composing, producing 21 operas and a considerable output of piano, vocal, chamber and orchestral works.

His most successful opera was Tiefland, which premièred in Prague in 1903. His successful orchestral works included his cello concerto (1899), a symphony, two string quartets and two piano concertos.

D’Albert toured extensively, including in the United States from 1904 to 1905. In 1907, d’Albert became the director of the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin, where he exerted a wide influence on musical education in Germany. He also held the post of Kapellmeister to the Court of Weimar.

In the wake of his success, he adopted German citizenship, and made repeated statements derogatory to English culture and his former English music teachers. He further changed his first name from Eugene to its German form, Eugen.

D’Albert was married six times: to Louise Salingré; to the pianist, singer and composer Teresa Carreño; to mezzo-soprano Hermine Finck; actress Ida Fulda; Friederike Jauner; and Hilde Fels. He had eight children.

In 1914, d’Albert moved to Zurich and became a Swiss citizen. During World War I, he was vocal in his enmity toward England, which led in turn to an understandable repugnance among English musicians to accept his music.

In John Purser’s biography of Erik Chisholm ‘Chasing a Restless Muse’, he noted d’Albert’s frequent visits back to Scotland in the following anecdote when Chisholm was registering his daughter’s birth and got into conversation with the Glasgow registrar:

“Weel” said the clerk, “Ye’re nothing like so particular as a wee red-heeded fella who kept coming back here; he had a kinda queer name – whit was it noo? Albert something? Dalbert. That’s it. Dalbert. You-gene Dalbert. He was a pee-anist, too, and every time he was playing in Glesca he came up here to see if we would change his birth certificate. He didna’ want his fether’s profession to be jest ‘Dancin’ but ‘Maitre de Ballet'”.

D’Albert died on the 3rd March 1932 at the age of 67 in Riga, Latvia, where he had travelled for a divorce from his sixth wife. In the weeks preceding his death, d’Albert was the subject of attacks by the press in Riga concerning his personal life. His last companion was a mistress, Virginia Zanetti. D’Albert’s final opera, Mister Wu, was left unfinished at his death and was completed by conductor Leo Blech. D’Albert was buried in the cemetery overlooking Lake Lugano in Morcote, Switzerland.

Selected Works:

Tiefland :

Die Abreise :

Die Toten Augen :

Symphonic Prologue to the Opera Tiefland :

Symphony in F and Cello Concerto :

Solo Piano Music :

Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 :

Kenneth Dempster

August 24, 2013

Kenneth Dempster
Kenneth Dempster was born in Edinburgh in 1962. He began his advanced musical training at Edinburgh Napier University before going on to study at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM) in London.

Dempster was awarded a variety of scholarships which enabled him to travel to the United States to study at Yale University. During his time at Yale, he studied with many eminent composers: Jacob Druckman, Martin Bresnick, Louis Andriessen, Earle Brown and Frederic Rzewski.

On returning to Britain, he studied further with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and James MacMillan on the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s Course for Young Composers.

Since completing his studies, he has received commissions for new pieces of music from a wide variety of ensembles and organisations.
His orchestral work, Seven Fans for Alma Mahler, commissioned by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, was widely acclaimed by reviewers and audiences alike. He also conducted the first performances of a large-scale community opera on the subject of Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, commissioned by the St. Magnus Festival to mark the 70th birthday of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. His music has been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio Scotland.

He has received noted recognition for his compositions: the Inter-Collegiate, Theodore Holland Award at the RAM, two Yale University prizes, the Cornelius Cardew Composition Prize and a Creative Scotland Award. He is currently Composer in Residence at Edinburgh Napier University.

His String Quartet No.4 ‘The Cold Dancer’ is on the eponymous CD featuring contemporary String Quartets from Scotland :

The Saltire Quartet have his work ‘Under the Hammer’ on a hard to find and occasionally unavailable CD :

Judith Weir

August 23, 2013

Judith Weir was born on 11 May 1954 in Cambridge, England, to Scottish parents: her father was a psychiatrist, her mother a teacher – and both were serious amateur musicians.

She became an oboe player, performing with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. “When I was a teenager I had a few lessons with John Tavener, who lived down the road,” she says, “and then in 1975 I had a piece played at a youth orchestras festival in Aberdeen. One of the jurors was Aaron Copland, and he suggested I go to Tanglewood.”

Her visit to the famous summer music school in New England was a life-changing experience, but years of confused struggle would follow before Weir found her own compositional voice.

“It was the tail end of the modernist period, which in a way I found very inspiring. It was wonderful to hear Boulez conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and new pieces by Birtwistle. But I was trying to do something completely different, which didn’t feel like ‘proper’ music, and I just felt completely incompetent compared with these great figures.”

The result was King Harald’s Saga (1979), a witty account of the Norwegian invasion of Britain in 1066. “That’s the real me, I think, because of the way it refers to the history of opera and compresses something big into a small frame.”

In the year of its première, Weir moved to Glasgow – “around the edges of the university music department” – where she encountered Scottish folk music and legends.

“Despite my Scottish ancestry, until then I had thought of the bagpipes as just a loud instrument. But I shared a house with someone who played in a folk group and learned a bit about the pìobaireachd starts with a tune and then, in a very systematic way, variations are built up so the piece becomes more florid and ornate. It’s almost like you can compare it to baroque with its sense of ornamentation, to tradition, which is this amazing classical variation. It always 19th-century music with its variation and possibly even to 20th-century processed music.”

In Glasgow, Weir remembers that apart from Scottish Opera and the BBC orchestras, the serious music scene had a strong do-it-yourself ethos: “maybe not always of the greatest standard, but lots of opportunities to get work performed in a supportive, yet critical, community”. Her opera The Vanishing Bridegroom was commissioned by the Glasgow District Council and premièred by Scottish Opera as a part of the 1990 European Capital of Culture celebrations in the city.

She is the recipient of honorary doctorates from the Universities of Aberdeen (1995) and Glasgow (2005), Queen’s University, Belfast (2001) and King’s College, London (2007). She was appointed a CBE in 1995.

Currently resident in London, she was the Artistic Director of the Spitalfields Festival from 1995 to 2000. In 2007, Weir was the third recipient of The Queen’s Medal for Music.

Her music often draws on sources from medieval history, as well as the traditional stories and music of her native Scotland.

She is best known for her operas and theatrical works, although she has also achieved international recognition for her orchestral and chamber works.

Selected Works:-

Piano Concerto and Orchestral Works

Choral Music

The Welcome Arrival of Rain

Blond Eckbert

Distance and Enchantment : Chamber Works

A Night At The Chinese Opera

Flute Concerto on the CD Spellbound

On Buying A Horse : The Songs

3 Operas : Consolations of Scholarship; Missa del Cid; King Harald’s Saga

The Cold Dancer featuring Weir’s String Quartet from 1990

NMC hope to release The Vanishing Bridegroom in 2014/15 if their opera appeal is successful