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A Glimpse into the world of Scottish Baroque Music

The music of eighteenth century Scotland is loved by performers and audiences alike: its timeless appeal stems from its simple soaring melodies, and the characteristic fusion of traditional ‘Baroque’ music, rhythms and styles inspired by Scottish dance. This charming music has enjoyed increased popularity within Scotland over the past thirty years, but it still remains an area of undiscovered beauty. Our programme showcases several Scottish-born composers, whose writing was inspired by the lyricism of the folk and traditional music that they heard around them. Some, such as James Oswald, John Reid, and the Earl of Kellie, wrote original pieces (in a ‘Baroque’ style), but their musical languages have an unmistakeable Scottish flavour.  Scottish rhythms (most notably the Lombardic or ‘Scotch snap’) dominate melody lines, and airs, jigs and hornpipes often take the place of traditional sonata movements.


These appealed to the sophisticated musical tastes of the members of the musical societies of Edinburgh and Aberdeen, whose popularity soared towards the mid-1750s. These societies employed their own orchestras, composers, and teachers, and their music catalogues, which have survived today, show the wealth of music performed in Scotland at the time, including not only Scottish composers, but also the ever-popular works of Italian musicians such as Corelli and Geminiani.

"The Pheasant's Eye"

‘The Pheasant’s Eye’ is a unique artistic project, featuring period performances of classical Scottish Baroque music, distinctive for its folk influences and Celtic rhythms. For this project, Ensemble Hesperi is joined by a Scottish dancer who will choreograph parts of the programme to bring the Scottish dance movements in our programme to life for twenty-first century audiences. Dance is an inherent part of all eighteenth century music, and we believe all types of audience, both new and regular concert-goers, will be inspired by the mix of visual movement with a repertoire steeped in the iconic heritage of Scotland. This programme offers a fresh perspective on the ever popular eighteenth century style through dance and infectious melodies, taking listeners on a journey into the heart of eighteenth century Scotland.

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Music produced in Scotland also found its way to London and further afield in the form of collections of ‘Scots Tunes’ published by several of the most celebrated Scottish composers: James Oswald, William McGibbon, Alexander Munro, and the Edinburgh-based Barsanti. These appealed to the tastes of fashionable Londoners, who were beguiled by tunes from the Scottish lowlands set to figured bass in the ‘Italian’ style.  Publishers and composers such as James Oswald and Robert Bremner made their fortunes publishing small ‘pocket book’ collections, (such as Oswald's 'Caledonian Pocket Companion') popular with professionals and amateur musicians well into the nineteenth century.

Scottish musicians, composers, and publishers were particularly successful in London, with many, such as James Oswald, moving permanently to the capital to puruse their careers. Oswald eventually became Chamber Composer to George III, and set up his own publishing shop near the Strand, as well as initiating a secret society called 'The Temple of Apollo', which published the music of several colleagues, many of them Scottish themselves. Thomas Alexander Erskine, or the 6th Earl of Kellie (pictured right) was also known as 'Fiddler Tam', and was an incredibly talented composer at the forefront of stylistic development, several of whose manuscripts have been recently discovered in Scotland.

Our recorder player, Mary-Jannet Leith, is undertaking a PhD on Scottish musical culture in London (2019-2022) at the University of Southampton, supported by an AHRC grant through the SWW2 partnership.

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