"Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing
Onward, the sailors cry!
Carry the lad that's born to be King
Over the sea to Skye"
The Variations on a Highland Air was inspired by the 'Skye Boat Song' - one of Scotland's best-loved folk songs that depicts the escape of 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' from the British in 1746 after failing to restore the House of Stuart to the throne. First published in 1884, the song has remained a popular symbol of Scottish nationalism, to the extent that it is taught in primary schools throughout Scotland today. Although based on the 'Skye Boat Song', Variations on a Highland Air does not begin with the theme itself. Rather, it challenges the traditional variation form by beginning with an inversion of the main theme - a symbolic reference to the defiance of the Scottish people.
The work further subverts conventions by linking all variations in a through-composed manner, as if recalling the contrasting but interlinked characteristics of the Scottish heritage - from the pastoral, idyllic, and warm-hearted, to the feisty, resilient, and resolute. Allusions to Scotland's tumultuous history are apparent in the D minor and ensuing D Major variations, but amidst the turmoil, the recognisable 'Skye Boat Song' theme emerges in a hauntingly beautiful chorale-like form. The theme gradually unfolds into a poignant and majestic finale that signifies the enduring Scottish spirit. (Notes by Julia Lu)
Written in August 2016 for Tamara Smolyar, who gave the first performances in Melbourne, Australia during August-September 2016.
Duration: approx. 10 minutes