Sor’s Variations on a favourite Scottish air op. 40 (“Ye banks and braes o’ bonnie Doon”) have caught the imagination of the guitar world in recent years, and are well on their way to becoming a standard part of the guitar repertory. They used to be little known, and my performance of them on BBC Scotland in 1972 was probably the first for very many years.
I suggest that the piece not be played too fast. The melody is a strathspey, and Burns’ words are sad: “How can ye chant, ye little birds, and I sae weary fu’ o’ care!” Yet at the same time, the sorrow is dignified by the stately dance form, so that the pace must be kept steady and unfaltering. The “Scotch hop” of the theme is echoed at the end of the piece.
The melody on which the variations are based is an old one, perhaps English in origin, to which Robert Burns wrote words which were published in volume 4 of the Scots Musical Museum in 1792, and from then on the melody was inextricably associated with Scotland. In setting such a melody, Sor played his part in the fascination of his age with Scotland and with Scottish music.
This edition comes from the new 2020 second edition of Sor’s New Complete Works for Guitar edited by Brian Jeffery. The Introduction and Index to the entire series can be seen here on this site.