‘Dubh-Shneachd - Black Snow’ is a vocal/electronic work created for the 11th International Symposium on Antarctic Earth Sciences and designed for performance in the historic Playfair Library at Old College, University of Edinburgh.
‘Black Snow’ is contemporary in nature but inspired by the relationship between Gaels and the natural world around them. At its heart are the events of the winter of 1829, known in the Gaelic-speaking Highlands and Islands of Scotland as Bliadhna an t-Sneachd Dhuibh – The Year of the Black Snow - when the winter lasted so long that huge numbers of cattle died and great hardship ensued. In several communities, the teine-èiginn or ‘need-fire’ was invoked to ward off evil and try to hasten Spring.
There are several accounts of this year’s disaster although none in song. There is however a drinking song by Iain MacMhurchaidh, the Kintail Bard, recounting a similar winter of later years, in which there is a dark humour and wilful disengagement with their terrible situation - a kind of ‘drink, for tomorrow we die’.