ROB ROY – Carter Burwell

Original Review by Alan Rogers (First uploaded at

Directed by Michael Caton-Jones and starring Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange, Rob Roy is a story set in Scotland of the 1700s and follows Robert Roy MacGregor (Neeson) as he tries to improve the lot of his village by borrowing money to buy cattle to herd to market. When this money is stolen and his chief creditor, the Duke of Montrose (John Hurt), seizes MacGregor’s lands, Rob Roy wages a private feud against Montrose, leading the Scot becoming a Robin Hood-type character to defend his family and honour. Carter Burwell landed the scoring duties for this tale about the Scottish outlaw turned folk hero.

Burwell mixes orchestra with staple Scottish/Irish/Celtic accoutrements such as Uilleann pipes, bodhran drum, penny whistles and fiddle, as well as the Scottish folk band Capercaillie, to fashion a score that achieves the right balance between the needs of the story (conventional orchestra) and to remind the audience of the locale (pipes, drums, whistles, etc). Burwell’s score centres around Rob Roy’s theme, heard first on fiddle and whistles and then by full orchestra in “Overture: Rob Roy/The Rieving Party”. This theme surfaces time and time again throughout the score but particularly in the first few cues where it helps paint a picture of an idyllic life where home, stability and romance dominate. This idyllic setting of the theme bookends the score as we again hear grand and uplifting statements of the main theme in the final two tracks (“Love and Death Suite” and “Robert and Mary”) as the film draws to a conclusion. Within the intervening tracks Burwell varies the theme nicely between the full orchestra and the ethnic instrumentation. 

Scottish folk band Capercaillie, and particularly their female vocalist Karen Matheson, are called upon to provide, what sounds like, source music (“The Gaelic Reels” and “The Blunt Reels”), and give some gutsy playing (isn’t it always) on pipes, fiddles, bodhran as well as clapping that wouldn’t be out of place at a ceilidh. In fact, it would be positively encouraged. Of particular note are “Ailein Duinn” (which translates as “Dark-haired Alan”) and “Morag’s Lament”. Featuring a traditional Scottish song for solo female voice, this lament of a fiancée who loses her love to the sea, is an ideal stage for Matheson’s mesmerising, crystal-clear voice. Burwell orchestrates sympathetic music to accompany the lyrics to good effect.

To balance the main theme, Burwell is not afraid for drums and rhythm to take the lead in some of the more dramatic cues. Whether it be with the bodhran or more traditional percussion such as snare drum, tracks such as “Highland Justice”, “Rannoch Moor Suite” and “Born By Rapids” all have rhythmic drumming to the fore of the music, driving mood as well as tempo. In the set piece “Rannoch Moor Suite”, the percussion acts almost as a death-knell before drums break out for a furious passage of playing. The composer handles the transition between orchestra and small ensemble, conventional and ethnic instruments with skill.

Rob Roy is a score I had not heard until recently. And it is a score that offers much to the listener: a memorable theme, some interesting-sounding choices in terms of orchestration, hypnotic vocals and a relatively restrained use of ethnic instrumentation. Occasionally eyes are raised that the Uilleann pipes are playing again, but I think that that is more to do with how other scores have used them rather than an over use here. This is a score that, if you haven’t already heard, you should hunt down. I was fortunate enough to win this in a competition. If you buy this I am sure you’ll think yourself fortunate that you parted with some hard-earned cash to get a hold of this excellent album.

Rating: ****

  1. Overture: Rob Roy / The Rieving Party (4:42)
  2. Home From The Hills (2:46)
  3. Hard Earth (2:10)
  4. Procession For The Ill-Used (1:40)
  5. Blood Sport (1:16)
  6. The Gaelic Reels (1:07)
  7. Ailein Duinn (2:37)
  8. Last Peaceful Night (1:51)
  9. Troops In The Mist (1:15)
  10. Honor Inflamed (3:21)
  11. The Dispossessed: Cave / Hard Home On The Moor (2:03)
  12. The Blunt Reels (2:15)
  13. Highland Justice: Call of The Claymore / Assize of The Gregorach (2:58)
  14. A Standing Stone, A Silk Purse (3:37)
  15. Theid mi Dhacaigh (I’ll Go Home) (1:19)
  16. Rannoch Moor Suite: Scorched Earth / Rannoch Moor Retreat / The Mists / Rob Come To Hand (6:07)
  17. Morag’s Lament (0:50)
  18. Born By Rapids (2:26)
  19. Love and Death Suite: My Beloved / A Matter of Honor / Cunningham’s End (4:10)
  20. Robert and Mary (3:15)

Running Time: 51:57

Virgin Records/Movie Music (1995)

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