Few names have stood the test of time better than that of Scottish poet and lyricist Robert Burns. This Burns’ night, we wanted to take a look into the life of this incredible musical figure and delve into why the impact of this incredible bard is still felt around the world today.
For more on Burns, we’ve also written a full history on Auld Lang Syne as he was the first person to document the song!
Celebrated as Scotland’s own ‘National Bard’ Burns’ life is celebrated on 25th January each year.
Who was Robert Burns?
Born 25th January 1759, Robert (also known as Rabbie) Burns was the son of a tenant farmer. Burns lived during an incredibly interesting time for Scottish politics and identity, the political scene was in flux as the result of the 1603 and 1707 unions which had stripped Scotland of its autonomy as decisions and directives issued from London rather than from Edinburgh. This of course caused a lot of unrest for the country and its people, so Burns certainly had a lot to work with!
Throughout his life, Burns continued to help out on his father’s farm and grew up knowing the vagaries of farming and understanding full well both mental preparation and long days of physical labor. But his real passion was to write. He began his poetic career as a writing for a local, known audience to whom he looked for immediate critique and evaluation of his work. He wrote on topics that appealed to both to himself and to his audience, often adopting a unique and appealing conversational style that made his work both endearing and accessible to the locals. He wrote on aspects of farm life, regional experience, traditional culture, class culture and distinctions, religious practice and in many cases, the general mundanity of day to day life.
Burn’s style has very much solidified him as one of the original pioneers of the Romantic movement as well as influencing a lot of key figures within both liberalism and socialism. His works are still used to this day and for a long time his "Scots Wha Hae" served as an unofficial national anthem of Scotland. Other poems of Burns that remain well known across the world today include "A Red, Red Rose", "A Man's a Man for A' That", "To a Louse", "To a Mouse", "The Battle of Sherramuir", "Tam o' Shanter" and "Ae Fond Kiss".
Despite having such a poetic and musical repertoire, toward the end of his life, Burns became an excise collector in Dumfries, where he died in 1796.
Despite being such a historical figure, Burn’s work continues to pop up in modern and historical culture from around the world. For example, John Steinbeck’s classic 1937 novel, 'Of Mice and Men' took its name from a line in the Burns poem ‘To a Mouse’. Even American President, Abraham Lincoln, had a lifelong admiration for the work of Robert Burns, with some claiming that the poet’s work had a key role in helping Lincoln win the American Civil War and abolish slavery.
How do we celebrate Burns’ Night?
Also known as Burns’ supper, Burns’ night actually began as a simple memoriam at Burns Cottage by Burns's friends, on 21 July 1801, the fifth anniversary of his death.
It has been a regular occurrence ever since and continued to spread around Scotland and the world. The first ‘Burns Club’ was founded in Greenock in 1801 by merchants who were born in Ayrshire, some of whom had known Burns and wanted to come together to celebrate his life and work.
Since then the Burns’ night suppers have developed into both formal and informal occasions with a few common themes. Both typically include haggis as a traditional Scottish dish, Scotch whisky and the recitation of Burns's poetry.
Toasting is an important part of any Burns Supper, and if you’ve been to a Burns Night event in the past, you’ll know that there are several different toasts throughout the evening.
Everything from toasting the arrival of haggis to the well humoured ‘Address to the Lassies’ and ‘Reply to the Laddies’ toasts where short speeches are given by both men and women, their views on another and toast to good health. The ultimate aim of Burns’ supper is to spread love to one another and celebrate community, health and the arts.
Celebrating Scotland - Other scottish names not to miss!
To round off this highlight of Burns’ night, we also thought it would be fun to take a walk through Scottish history to uncover some of our favoruite and notable piansits and composers from the north that will help accompany any Burns night celebration!
Joe ‘Mr Piano’ Henderson
Everyone loves a child prodigy and Henderson was certainly one, becoming a professional at age 15, playing in dance bands. In 1947, he met Petula Clark in 1947 and Alan A. Freeman in 1949, both of whom he worked with extensively. In 1957, George Hamilton IV scored a hit with Henderson and Jack Fishman's composition "Why Don't They Understand" and Henderson himself enjoyed two chart hits with "Sing It With Joe" and "Sing It Again With Joe", both medleys of popular songs.
Henderson's biggest hit however was "Trudie", which made number 14 in the UK Singles Chart, and number 1 in the sheet music chart in 1958!
Fergus McCreadie (The Fergus McCreadie Trio)
A really exciting new name on the scottish music scene, Fergus McCreadie and The Fergus McCreadie Trio burst onto the national scene with his self-released debut album Turas in 2018. Fergus's sound blends
Scottish folk with rhythmical flair and experimentation. Fergus's work has managed to bad hum a number of titles already, including album of the Year at the Parliamentary and Scottish Jazz Awards and shortlistings for the Scottish Album of the Year Award 2019 and even BBC Jazz Musician of the Year Finalist in 2018.
Gordon Charles Cree
Scottish singer, actor and composer Gordon Cree has been leading the way in Scottish orchestral compositions since 2001. Gordon's arrangements have been used for plethora of different performances and theatre shows as well as for a wide array of established ensembles including The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, The Royal Scottish National Orchestra, The BBC Concert Orchestra to name just a few!
So whilst Burns' Night may not take place in normal traditions this year, there are certainly some incredibly fun and enjoyable stories to be made! If you have never read any of Burn’s work or attended a Burns night celebration, give this standing order of a typical burns night a read. Or if you are looking for the perfect piano to play your favoruite Burns songs or poems, we’d love to help! Contact us today!