First broadcast of ‘St Blane’s Hill’

St Blane's hill. (Photo by Michael Gallacher:
St Blane's hill. (Photo by Michael Gallacher:

A work commissioned by the former Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and inspired by the south-end of the island is to be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 later this month.

The piece, titled ‘St Blane’s Hill’, performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, was written in 1991 by William Sweeney and has been performed in Scotland and Ireland, but this will be the first time it has been broadcast.

Mr Sweeney’s explanation of the work is as follows: “St Blane’s Hill is at the south-west tip of the island of Bute, and looks across the Sound of Bute to the dramatic skyline of the north Arran mountains. In the hollow of a hanging valley

beside it is the site of a sixth century religious settlement established by St.Cattan which was raided by the Vikings, but later re-established. A church, now ruined, was in use on the site until about 150 years ago.

“Almost all of the significant Bronze-age to early mediaeval remains on Bute are on the west or south of the island. Perhaps those on the east side have been obliterated by modern settlement, but I prefer to think that each generation has pointed itself towards its own economic and cultural centre.

“In the so-called “Dark Ages” this was Ireland at the high point of Celtic culture; only in later times would it be industrial Scotland and the high road to England.

“On a map of Europe, Scotland looks to be at the farthest edge and our cultural life is often infected by a sense of inferiority. I feel that we should emulate these early Celts and look first of all to our own culture: and then at any other that pleases us, on an equal footing.

“Perhaps I am stretching the metaphor of St Blane’s Hill too far. But it’s an apt enough symbol for the Royal Scottish Academy of Music too: - apparently at the periphery, but at the centre of its own culture.

“Even if the listener can’t share my reasoning, I hope at least that the atmosphere of this unique place might reach out to them.”

Tune in on October 23 at 2pm to ‘Afternoon on 3’ on BBC Radio 3 to hear the recording of ‘St Blane’s Hill’, performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.