The Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s musical arrangement of the poem ”My Heart’s in the Highlands” by Scottish poet Robert Burns for countertenor, organ and bagpipes is without doubt, one of the most haunting songs I’ve ever heard.
I was utterly spellbound the first time I heard the version recorded by the organist Stephen Layton and countertenor David James in 2003. Even without the music, the poem with its vivid picture of the Scottish highlands is majestic enough but with Pärt’s masterful composition, it becomes the song of a universal longing to return home and seems to speak to all of us, whether we come from the mountain, the desert or the sea.
I’ve recently been collaborating with guitarist and oud player Gregory Dargent and chatting one day about what we could play together, we realised we were both unconditional Arvo Pärt fans. Being mostly for choir or orchestra, there’s not much of Pärt’s music that could work with just a voice and guitar but ”My Heart’s in the Highlands” seemed a perfect piece to try and paint as if it were a timeless, traditional folk song.