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Hear, Land O'Cakes and Brither Scots: Celebrating Robert Burns

In celebration of the mighty Scottish poet, Robert Burns, we asked Kirsteen McCue, professor of Scottish Literature and Song Culture, and Co-Director of the Centre for Robert Burns Studies at the University Glasgow, what Robert Burns means to her.

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The Robert Burns window at Glasgow University. Robert Burns is surrounded by motifs of Scottish flora. Image Credit: Centre for Robert Burns Studies, University of Glasgow

"Burns means a great deal to me personally," said Prof. McCue, "I came to know his poetry and songs as a child and they have stayed with me ever since. Now I have the privilege of working with Burns' work almost every day on our AHRC-funded project."

The project, Editing Robert Burns for a 21st Century Audience is hosted by the Centre for Robert Burns Studies at the University of Glasgow, and was recently awarded a further £1million by the AHRC.

"He means a lot to me because, almost more than any other writer, he has the ability to see and articulate human experience from so many different perspectives", Prof. McCue continued. "He was the ultimate role-player."

This sentiment is shared not only by Robert Burns specialists and those who study the literary art form, but by other Scots mindful of their heritage.

Scientist Dr David MacDougall from an AHRC sibling research council, the BBSRC, explained "when I celebrate Robert Burns, I feel a positive sense of cultural identity untainted by parochialism. Burns Night is a chance to feel proud of being Scottish now, by pricking our ears to poetic whispers of a national yesteryear, and the themes of love, humour, food, and superstition are perennially engaging. As a modern Scot, that the dialect is just within my understanding makes it all he more enjoyable."

Professor McCue, like many others, will be celebrating Burns Night in what she called a fairly traditional style. "I will be celebrating with poems, songs, fine malt whisky to toast his memory, and haggis, of course!".

"And do you have a favourite poem?" we asked.

"My favourite piece is a beautiful, simple love song called 'Ay Waukin O', first published by Burns in the big song collected The Scots Musical Museum. It was one of the songs Burns recreated from a short verse he found - and it's simply about a girl who can't sleep because she's thinking about the man she loves. It's so simple, set to a haunting melody - and I think it's a real masterpiece".

What Research is currently being undertaken at the Centre for Robert Burns Studies?

"I'm working with an editorial team here on a new Oxford edition of the Collected Works of Robert Burns", Prof. McCue informed us. "The first volume - Commonplace Books, Tour Journals, and Miscellaneous Prose (edited by Nigel Leask) is already out, and the next element of the edition is due out this spring, entitled The Scots Musical Museum (edited by Murray Pittock)".

"I am also currently editing Burns' songs for his second song editor, George Thomson. Thomson's collections were published from 1793 until the mid-1840s, and he conducted a detailed correspondence with Burns in the last four years of the poet's short life. He married over 160 of Burns' songs to musical arrangements by contemporary European composers like Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven, making unique collections of Scottish, Welsh, and Irish songs. Burns was his most important contributor. And for Burns' birthday this week, we are launching a new online resource: the first modern performance of Burns' cantata The Jolly Beggars, as Thomson published it in 1818, with new music by the theatre composer Sir Henry Bishop."

You can watch find the performance of The Jolly Beggars here.

Published on 25/01/2017

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