program notes by composition > T > Tam o'Shanter Overture

Tam o'Shanter Overture

Malcom Arnold, Op. 51/arr. John P. Paynter

Tam o’Shanter Overture is based on the famous narrative poem by the Scottish poet, Robert Burns (1759-1796). While the hero Tam, a hard-drinking farmer from Shanter is in the town of Ayr one market-day, wags clip the tail of Maggie, his horse. To explain the missing tail to his superstitious wife he concocts a wild story, depicted in this overture.

This overture, written in 1955, depicts Tam imbibing to excess in Ayr. Eventually he climbs on his horse Maggie for a desultory ride home in the pre-dawn dark. He happens upon a lighted church and covertly watches a band of witches cavorting to their master’s bagpipes. One, wearing a too-short shirt (cutty-sark), pleases Tam so well that he cries out “Weel done, cutty-sark!”, voiced here on solo trombone. Instantly all is dark, and the hellish legion pursues him. If he reaches the bridge he is safe, for fiends cannot cross running water. He spurs Maggie toward home at top speed but the vengeful hags are close on his heels approaching the middle of the bridge over the River Doon. In the furious climax, a witch springs to seize him but too late -- all she gets is Maggie’s tail. Tam arrives safely at home, but faces one last peril, heard in the four closing measures, when his shrewish wife reacts poorly to his account of the evening. The poem concludes with this admonition:

“Now, wha’ this tale o’truth shall read, lik man and mother’s son, take heed: Whene’er to drink you are inclin’d, Or cutty-sarks run in your mind, Think, ye may buy the joy o’er dear, Remember Tam o’Shanter’s mare.”

Composer Malcolm Arnold was born in 1921 in Northampton, England. Originally a trumpet performer, he is known for his conducting and for his uninhibited writing. His works include symphonies, concertos, chamber music and film scores ( 1984 , The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness ).

Arranger John Paynter (1928-1996) was born in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. Director of Bands at Northwestern University for 43 years, he was recognized as a conductor, arranger, and composer of music for winds, with over 400 works to his credit. He was a world leader in the community band movement.

Last updated on March 24, 2017 by Palatine Concert Band