German-born composer of 'Highland Cathedral' anthem pens sequel 40 years later

It is a rousing piping tune famous for rousing the crowds watching from the stands at Murrayfield or packed onto Edinburgh Castle esplanade for the Tattoo.

Saturday, 20th March 2021, 11:59 pm
Updated Sunday, 21st March 2021, 7:35 am

However despite being one of Scotland’s best-known musical anthems of modern times, it is little known that Highland Cathedral was actually created by two German composers.

Now, more than 40 years since Michael Korb – the surviving creator of the tune – learned to play the bagpipes in Edinburgh, has unveiled a sequel.

Korb, who wrote the original anthem with fellow Berlin composer Uli Roever for a Highland Games event, has joined forces with a Yorkshire-born composer and musician, Ian Macpherson, to create Highland Nocturne.

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Inspired by “the ancient castles and misty lochs of the Highlands,” Korb is already harbouring hopes it will emulate the worldwide success of Highland Cathedral and be adopted by piping groups, big bands and orchestras.

Korb developed an interest in playing the pipes when he took lessons with the pipe major of a Scottish army battalion stationed in Berlin.

When it left the city Korb decided to relocate to Edinburgh to pursue his passion for the instrument.

He took daily lessons with tutor Paddy Atkinson, playing in his garden during the day, and heading to woodland areas in the evening to avoid disrupting his neighbours.

Michael Korb lived in Edinburgh in the 1970s.
Michael Korb lived in Edinburgh in the 1970s.

However it was not until he had moved back to Berlin that he met Roever, a composer, arrange and sound engineer.

Korb said: “We tried to make experiments with the bagpipes, wrote a lot of tunes and produced a few records together.

"I had the first idea for Highland Cathedral and we developed the tune together in his studio. We released it as a single in 1982 and were convinced of its success.

"A lot of people think it’s Scottish and it’s now found its way into the hearts of people all over the world. Its success is totally unbelievable, but I’m very happy with it, as it is a message of my love for Scotland.

Highland Cathedral is regularly performed at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Picture: Ian Georgeson

“I have been 10 times to the wonderful city Edinburgh with its friendly people and I will never forget the goosebumps effect of the Tattoo on me."

Highland Cathedral rose to prominence in the mid-1980s after being recorded by the Royal Highland Fusiliers when they were stationed in Berlin.

It began to be regularly performed by pipe bands at sporting events and the Tattoo. Its popularity soared after featuring in the blockbuster movie Four Weddings and a Funeral, before being played at pop icon Madonna’s own wedding in the Highlands, to Guy Ritchie.

It was played during the ceremony to mark the final day of British rule in Hong Kong in 1997 and featured on Spirit of the Glen, the album which won the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards a Classical Brit award in 2009.

German composer Michael Korb is best known as the co-writer of Highland Cathedral. Picture: Walburga Walters

By then it had gained so much popularity that it was regularly being touted as a new “alternative national anthem,” to rival Flower of Scotland, with a Scottish tenor, Ben Kelly, penning lyrics to accompany the original tune.

Korb added: “Ian and I have worked on several musical projects over the years.

"This new work is inspired by the ancient castles and misty lochs of the Highlands.

"It’s a haunting melody, full of atmosphere, energy and emotion, and brings together contemporary and traditional sounds.”

Macpherson said: "At the age of 16 I joined the army as a musician and enlisted into The Band of The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment). It was there that I was introduced to Highland Cathedral.

“I have known Michael since 2012. I first contacted him to let him know how much I liked Highland Cathedral. It’s one of my favourite pieces of music of all time.

"I asked Michael if he would consider working on composing music with me at some stage in the future. We’ve been friends and have been co-writing music ever since.”

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