Hamish MacCunn

Portrait of Hamish MacCunn

Hamish MacCunn (Christened James) was a Scottish composer, conductor and teacher. He was born on 22nd March 1868 in Greenock, Scotland and died on 2nd August 1916 in London, England aged 48.

Major Works

“The Land of the Mountain and the Flood” (1887) 
“Jeanie Deans” (1894) 
The Wreck of the Hesperus” (1905)

Biography Timeline

Hamish MacCunn was born on 22nd March 1868 in Greenock, Scotland. His father James MacCunn was a wealthy shipowner and amateur cellist. His mother was Barbara, née Neill, was a pianist and former pupil of William Sterndale Bennett. Hamish was christened James and was the second son. He was educated at Greenock Academy and received private lessons in piano, organ, violin and composition.

1876: The family spend a season in London, and MacCunn attends all of August Mann’s concerts at the Crystal Palace.

1883: He wins a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London. Among his teachers in composition are Hubert Parry and Charles Villiers Stanford and he studies piano under Franklin Taylor and viola under Alfred Gibson.

1884: Whilst still a student he has several pieces premiered at the Academy including the cantata “The Moss Rose”.

1885: He adopts the first name Hamish, which is a Gaelic version of the name James. His overture “Cior Mhor” is included in a concert at the Crystal Palace in October. 

1886: He resigns the scholarship in a fit of pique believing he is not receiving his due social status and therefore he doesn’t finish his degree.

1887: His first success is with “The Land of the Mountain and the Flood” which is performed at the Crystal Palace.

1888: He takes up the post of professor of harmony at the Royal College of Music and also takes on private pupils to boost his income.

1889: Many of his songs are premiered at the house of John Pettie the painter. He marries Pettie’s daughter Alison in June. Carl Rosa the opera manager commissions him to write a work for his company.

1891: He is contracted to write an opera for Richard D’Oyly Carte’s new Royal English Opera House. It is planned to be “Cleopatra” based on H. Rider Haggards’s novel but it is never completed.

1894: His opera was “Jeanie Deans”, based “The Heart of Midlothian” by Walter Scott is first produced and receives considerable success.

1896: “Jeanie Deans” is performed in London and MacCunn begins work on another opera.

1897: The Carl Rosa company produces “Diarmid and Ghrine” at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in London with moderate success and MacCunn becomes known now chiefly as an opera conductor. His new orchestral suite, “Highland Memories” is given its premiere.

1898: For two seasons he is musical director of the Carl Rosa company and conducts a wide range of productions including the first performances in English of Richard Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” and “Siegfried”.

1900: He signs a new contract as conductor of the Moody-Manners company and leads the orchestra in Wagner’s “Lohengrin”“Tannhauser” and the “Flying Dutchman” as well as performing George Bizet’s “Carmen” and his own work “The Masque of War and Peace”.

1902: He is appointed as musical director of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company at the Savoy Theatre. He produces the premiere of Edward German’s “Merrie England”.

1903: He conducts German’s “A Princess of Kensington”.

1905: His opera “The Golden Girl” is produced at Her Majesty’s Theatre and he composes “The Wreck of the Hesperus“.

1908: His “Pageant of Darkness and Light” is performed in London. 

1910: He conducts “Hansel and Gretel” by the nineteenth century composer Engelbert Humperdinck at His Majesy’s Theatre as part of Thomas Beecham’s season and takes “The Tales of Hoffman” by Jacques Offenbach on tour.

1912: He teaches opera classes at the Guildhall School of Music in London and continues his private tuition.

1915: He conducts “The Tales of Hoffmann” and Charles Gounod’s “Faust” in Beecham’s season at the Shaftesbury Theatre.  

Hamish MacCunn died on 2nd August in 1916 at home in St John’s Wood, London of throat cancer. He was buried in Hampstead Cemetery. 

Further Information

List of compositions by MacCunn.