Journal of the Northern Renaissance

~ Radical Open Access ~

Diasporic music and musicians: Scottish national music in later eighteenth-century London

​​​Andrew Bull​

​[1]​ The interaction of Scottish national music within the wider British musical community during the later eighteenth century provides plenty of areas for discussing this special issue’s theme of ‘communities and margins’. This article will interrogate two lines of inquiry regarding Scottish national music following this theme. Firstly, it will use the life and career of James Oswald to look at how networks of Scottish musicians aided each other in London, and how they then interacted with the wider population. Secondly, it will then look at how Scottish national music was written about during this same time, finding parallels with how Highland society was also discussed. These two strands show the complexity of Scottish national music’s relationship to the wider British musical community. Scottish diasporic networks were critical to Scottish musicians setting themselves up in a new city and gaining popularity. They of course also interacted with English theatre, court, and military in varying ways and with varying degrees of success, yet it was often the Scottish connections and contacts that were used first, providing a stable base in London from which to further develop.

​[2]​ Throughout this article, the term ‘Scottish national music’ will be used to describe what would now more commonly be labelled as ‘folk’ or ‘traditional’ music. This follows how writers of the time classified this kind of music, avoiding the anachronism of terming one category of music as ‘folk’ during the eighteenth century. It also allows us to avoid attempting to categorise Oswald as either ‘traditional’ or ‘folk’ in some of his works. By composing his own Scottish national music he participated in a long-standing oral tradition. However, much of this music was disseminated through the mass media of the day, print, and he himself aimed these collections at a wide, even international, audience. This would move him, according to McKerrell and West’s definitions of ‘traditional’ and ‘folk’, away from ‘traditional’ and into ‘folk music’ (2018: 9; see also McGuinness 2018: 129, for a discussion over the importance given to orality nowadays for traditional music compared to eighteenth century views). The use of the eighteenth century’s term of ‘Scottish national music’ is more useful for our foray into literary descriptions of what this music should be and sound like, rather than as an active descriptor for all music printed during this period in collections termed as ‘Scottish’ music. Once one delves into the sources for the tunes found in these collections, one finds English music as well, along with Irish; even Oswald’s Caledonian Pocket Companion contains Irish and English music (Purser 2007: 207; see also John Walsh’s Collection of Original Scotch Songs of ca. 1732, which contained songs created by Englishmen – Farmer 1943: 250). However, the idea of a distinctly Scottish national music, one that was especially old or ancient, will be shown to have had a strong impact in writings about Scotland’s musical outputs.

​[3]​ The growth of Scottish musicians in London brought about an increase in Scottish national music being played in the city, and an increasing interest in its origins. In writings regarding these origins, earlier narratives regarded David Rizzio, Mary Queen of Scots’ secretary, as the originator of Scottish national music (see Beattie 1779: 174 quoted below, and Farmer 1943: 124). As will be shown, this was replaced over the course of the eighteenth century with an early-Romantic, pastoral ideal, with Scottish national music’s origins placed in a hazy ‘ancient past’. Its supposed natural pleasure and method of expression was contrasted to the complexity of current musical compositions; whilst becoming a site of increased academic and literary interest, it was nevertheless marginalised. The methods of discussion used to describe Scottish national music take on similar ideas from how Highland society was described during and after the 1745 Jacobite Rising – uncivilised, barbaric, and reliant upon a natural state of being instead of achieving civility (see the several anonymous writers, Duick 1746, and references from Clyde 1995 quoted below). Whilst Scottish national music moved into being discussed by a wider community of musicians, the result of this was a marginalisation of Scottish national music – one that still holds today in our divisions between ‘traditional’ and ‘classical’ music.

​[4]​ General histories of eighteenth century Scotland often pay little attention to the musical output of Scottish musicians (if they remark upon music at all). Indeed, one well-regarded historian of Scotland in a chapter on ‘Academics and Artists’ from the mid-eighteenth century to around 1830 asked: ‘has there been a Scottish composer of outstanding merit in any generation?’ (Smout 1998: 455). The answer is yes – if we broaden our field of view to what counts as ‘outstanding merit’. Such a phrase is suggestive of the notion of the individual genius with a distinctive art music voice, part of the ‘mythologisation of dead, male, white composers in the art tradition’ that privileged an elitist and hegemonic idea of what music ‘should’ be (McKerrell and West 2018: 5). This is, of course, to the detraction of composers that did not fit within a highly romanticised view of what a composer ‘should’ be (often women, ethnic minorities, and even those that simply did not devote their whole lives to music). If we instead allow the ability to compose in a variety of styles and fit into multiple musical communities as ‘merit’, then James Oswald is indeed a contender for such an accolade. The rise of his career, from dancing tutor in Dunfermline to court composer to King George the Third, would seem to be in support of his ‘outstanding merit’.

​[5]​ James Oswald was the son of a town musician in Crail, Fife, whose early career had him giving dancing lessons in Dunfermline (Purser 2007: 205-6). He then moved to Edinburgh, where he published a collection of minuets in 1736 (now lost), A Collection of Musick by Several Hands of ca. 1740, and his first Curious Collection of Scots Tunes, dedicated to the Duke of Perth (Oswald 1740; Johnson 2003: 61). Despite his successes in Edinburgh, he moved to London in 1741, resulting in Allan Ramsay penning An Epistle to James Oswald, rueing ‘London, alas! which aye has been our bane, / To which our very loss is certain gain’ (Ramsay 1741: 144). There he worked for a time with the publisher (and Scotsman) John Simpson, and after Simpson’s death in 1747, set up his own shop in St. Martin’s Lane (Farmer 1943; 333; Purser 2007: 207). His publishing and composing career was highly successful, and he enjoyed the patronage of Frederick, Prince of Wales, alongside a strong connection with the London Theatres. He died at the grandiose Knebworth House, having become acquainted with John Robinson Lytton over the years and then marrying his widowed wife Leonora (Purser 2007: 215; Purser and Parkes 2007: 19).​[1]​

​[6]​ Oswald’s musical output highlights how skilful he was in switching between different styles. He published marches for militias, serenatas for violin and bass, love songs, satirical songs, music for theatre, and almost proto-programmatic music in his Airs for the Seasons. Yet the style he was composing and producing the most was Scottish national music, such as his Caledonian Pocket Companion which ran to twelve books (Purser 2007: 207). This sort of music, now commonly termed ‘traditional music’, was yet to be divided from ‘art music’ (on this, see Gelbart 2007).

​[7]​ At first glance, Oswald’s move to London is doubly marginalising, distancing him as a Scot from both his homeland and the sources of Scottish national music. But on further inspection, Oswald’s move is far less marginalising than one might think. A growing amount of Scots had moved to London to make their fortunes, and Scottish music was growing in popularity, as evidenced by its inclusion in John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera and the publication of William Thomson’s Orpheus Caledonius (Flood 1921: 150-5; Alburger 2010: 188). Oswald was still taking a risk here, however the image being presented from London was one that Scottish music was of interest. The sale of such music sends the message north that publishing music in London may be financially viable, causing a greater influx of musicians down south. Perceptions of the target destination for the migrant is just as important as the perception of the receiving country after all (Wood and King 2001: 1). Oswald was also able to compose in more than one style, so even if Scottish national music had not proven to be as successful as it did, he could rely upon his ability to compose in a more cosmopolitan Italian style (Purser 2007: 206).

​[8]​ As a Scot living in England, yet printing Scottish national music, Oswald counted amongst what is now termed ‘the Scottish diaspora’. He actively promoted his Scottish-ness in this way, showing a desire to remain connected to his homeland and forming an ethnic identity in relation to his home, though perhaps not wishing to return (Bueltmann 2014: 12; Bueltmann, Hinson and Morton 2013: 9-10). However, Oswald’s relationship with Britain was not an oppositional one between Scottish and British identities. He composed Fifty-Five Marches for the Militia in response to the new militias being raised in English counties (yet occasionally showed Jacobite sympathies in his choice of music for the Caledonian Pocket Companion); possibly harmonised God Save the King when still working for John Simpson; and was patronised by the British royal family, showing a certain amount of assimilation into his new home (Bueltmann, Hinson and Morton 2013: 25; Purser 2007: 216-7). Still, his interactions with other members of the Scottish diaspora are informative as to how diasporic connections help build business communities; whilst this has been briefly discussed in an edited collection studying Scots in London (Alburger 2010), this can be expanded further, to provide a more detailed account of his interactions with Scots and other diasporic communities.

​[9]​ Oswald was not the only Scottish musician active in London. A community of musicians appears to have formed around the patronage of Frederick, Prince of Wales, which then turned into what was grandiosely termed ‘the Society of the Temple of Apollo’ (first appearing as a term in the printing licence for Oswald of 23rd October 1747 – Purser and Parkes 2007: 18-9). This group primarily comprised Scottish musicians – alongside Oswald, there was certainly John Reid and Charles Burney. Assertions by Frank Kidson that other Scots were involved run primarily on their geographical location in London, rather than any textual record of their being involved with each other, noticeably claiming Thomas Erskine, the Earl of Kellie, as a member (1910: 41). Erskine is also remarked upon by Alburger to have been a member, presuming that Oswald could help him find a publisher for his music; yet why would the publisher Oswald send Erskine to another publisher, Robert Bremner? (Alburger 2010: 192 and 202 n. 17). Bremner was another Scot, yes, but there is little reason for Oswald to not have published Erskine’s compositions himself. This would suggest that Erskine was not in fact a member of the Society; whilst it would be tempting to place the introducer of Mannheim-style symphonic music to Britain as part of the Society, evidentially we have no known link between any Society member and Erskine.

​[10]​ We do however have clear evidence of Temple membership for the career military man John Reid (later General), who had two collections of flute sonatas published by Oswald, one in 1756, and another in 1762 (Ford 2016: 228). The first set, Six Solos for a German Flute or Violin with a Thorough Bass for the Harpsicord, are ‘Inscrib’d to the Countess of Ailesbury By I. R. Esq. A Member of the Temple of Apollo’ (GB-GU Ca9-y.35). The dedication by Reid to the ‘Countess of Ailesbury’ is one that opens a door into the community of Scottish soldiers that were making their way in British politics at that time. The aforesaid countess, one Lady Caroline Campbell, was the only daughter of (the then Colonel) John Campbell, later the 4th Duke of Argyll who had served in various British army regiments, as well as Member of Parliament for several Scottish constituencies (Cockayne et al 2000: 62, 209). Her brother John Campbell, the 5th Duke of Argyll, had a similar career of military and political positions (Cockayne et al 2000: 209). Lady Campbell first married the aging Charles Bruce, Earl of Ailesbury and Elgin, on 18 June 1739; however, after his death on 10 February 1747, she then remarried in December that year to one Henry Seymour Conway (Cockayne et al 2000: 62-3). Conway was similar in his mix of political and military roles throughout his career, and was also cousin to Horace Walpole (Towse 2004). Despite her remarriage, Lady Campbell clearly was allowed to continue to use her title of ‘Countess of Ailesbury’ until the time when the Earldom was re-established in 1776 for Charles Bruce’s nephew Thomas Bruce with the title therefore moving to Bruce’s wife, Susanna Hoares (Cockayne et al 2000: 63). All this adds up, then, to a world of polite musical patronage between members of Scottish military families in England.

​[11]​ The second definite member of the Society was Charles Burney, who appears to have first met James Oswald in June 1748 (Klima, Bowers, and Grant 1988: 87, fn 3). Oswald published several of his works – firstly reprinting Burney’s Six Sonatas for Two Violins, with A Bass for the Violoncello or Harpsichord, Most humbly dedicated to the Rt. Honble. The Earl of Holderness in July that year; Six Songs Compos’d for the Temple of Apollo, To which is added A favourite Cantata of ca. 1750; Lovely Harriote. A Crambo song, the words by Mr. Smart (certainly published after 1751, when the text first appeared in The Midwife – a ‘crambo song’ is one in which verses are capped with clever rhymes); and Six concertos in seven parts for four violins, a tenor, a violoncello, and thorough bass, for the organ, or harpsichord (Klima, Bowers, and Grant 1988: 86-8, fn 1, 3, and 5; Rizzo 1981: 65, 71 fn 12; Schlager 1971: 454-5).

​[12]​ Burney’s relationship with Oswald is an intriguing one. Late in his life, in a letter to his daughter Madam d’Arblay, he called himself ‘the WHOLE Society of the Temple of Apollo‘, (Klima, Bowers and Grant 1988: 89 n. 2). Whilst his earlier memoirs admit that Oswald was also publishing under this patent, the publications of other members such as Reid appear to have gone unnoticed by Burney (Klima, Bowers and Grant 1988: 88). His memoirs claim that he provided the music for both Queen Mab and The Masque of Alfred, two successful Drury Lane productions under David Garrick (Klima, Bowers and Grant 1988: 98-9). The music for both of these appeared in Oswald’s shop under the guise of the Society of the Temple of Apollo. Burney took ill in 1751, and moved to King’s Lynn that year, which appears to have paused his theatrical ambitions (Klima, Bowers and Grant 1988: 105, 107 n. 1). He only published a single song with Oswald during this time, Lovely Harriote. A Crambo song, the words by Mr. Smart, which could only have been published after 16 June 1751, as the words by Christopher Smart were from The Midwife: or, The old woman’s magazine (Rizzo 1981: 65, 71 fn 12). Upon his return to London, Burney only successfully achieved two further theatre works: providing some of the music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream (23 November 1763) which was cancelled after its first show due to bad reviews; and translating Rousseau’s Le Devin du Village as The Cunning Man, A Musical Entertainment (21 November 1766), both for Garrick’s Drury Lane (Lonsdale 1965: 59, 72; Nicoll 1952: 241). After this, his focus turned towards the history and theory of music.

​[13]​ Meanwhile, Oswald appears to have had greater success with the theatre. Even if we accept Burney’s claim to being entirely behind Queen Mab and Alfred, other theatre productions had music provided by the Society of the Temple of Apollo, after Burney had left London (Fiske 1973: 231; Lonsdale 1965: 54). This, presumably, was Oswald, as no other known member was involved with theatre music. Attributable to Oswald after Burney’s leaving are: Harlequin Ranger (26 December 1751, Drury Lane); The Old Woman’s Oratory (27 December 1751, Haymarket Theatre); The Genii (26 December 1752, Drury Lane); The Gamester (7 February 1753, Drury Lane); Fortunatus (26 December 1753, Drury Lane); The Reprisal; or, The Tars of Old England (22 January 1757, Drury Lane); Douglas (14 March 1757, Covent Garden); and Cleone (2 December 1758, Covent Garden) (Greene 2011: 570; Highfill, Burnim and Langhans 1987: 123; Nicoll 1952: 257, 272, 288, 308, 317, and 338). Oswald also published many tunes from these productions, and was involved in producing Storace’s version of Pergolesi’s La serva padrona in 1758 and 1759 (publishing the ‘Favourite Songs’ from the burletta with Storace’s translations) (Highfill, Burnim and Langhans 1987: 123-4; Schlager 1976: 352-3).

​[14]​ Looking at this list of productions that Oswald was involved with during the 1750s, and the connections that he clearly had in the theatre world, it is odd that Burney is only to be found working at Drury Lane upon his return, and not elsewhere (such as the highly fashionable Covent Garden). Oswald and Burney may still have been working together for publishing purposes – Burney’s Six concertos in seven parts for four violins, a tenor, a violoncello, and thorough bass, for the organ, or harpsichord appear to be circa 1760, and published by Oswald. Yet Burney’s lack of mention of Oswald in his memoirs, and his lack of success in his later theatrical music, makes one wonder if the musical genius behind the successful Queen Mab and The Masque of Alfred was in fact Burney, or whether Oswald’s role in their creation was muted in Burney’s recollection of events. Oswald and Burney’s relationship, then, stands as a reminder that diasporic business relations do not necessarily mean that they are always positive ones.

​[15]​ Surprisingly, despite Murray Pittock’s assertion that music could be used ‘as monikers of identity in response to the metropolitan pressure of London’ (Pittock 2002-3: xii), the output of the Society is remarkably cosmopolitan. Aside from Oswald, and a little of Reid’s output (The Garb of Old Gaul is still used as a slow march for Scottish battalions – Purser 2007: 227, along with Canadian regiments and the Royal Gurkha Rifles), the Society’s publications seem to have been primarily run-of-the-mill music for theatre and drawing rooms in a European style, rather than holding any national tendencies. Perhaps Oswald felt the most pressured by London to keep his own identity – Reid, after all, was already heavily involved in the British military, and had married into wealth so publishing was less critical to him; Burney had dropped the ‘mac’ from MacBurney and seems to have held a strong interest in journeying throughout Europe and sampling its many musical delights (Purser 2007: 215 and 226). Oswald comes across as holding the most interest in his homeland, shown in his consistent publishing of Scottish national music.

​[16]​ Overall, however, the Society does not seem to fit within the common aim of later diasporic societies to promote their homeland’s own culture (Bueltmann, Hinson and Morton 2013: 122-3). Instead it comes across as a sensible business group – diasporic to an extent in its members’ composition, but pragmatic in its outputs. Whilst it follows the three core criteria of diaspora (orientation to homeland in its membership; boundary maintenance in its newcomers; and residency in a location outwith Scotland), it appears surprisingly neutral to any notion of promoting Scottish musical culture (Bueltmann, Hinson and Morton 2013: 128). Though the Society’s most obvious members were diasporic, its activities did not actively promote Scottish national music, but promoted instead Scottish musicians, who published and performed varieties of music. Scottish musicians were not marginalised into only playing Scottish national music; so whilst the outputs in terms of printing of the Temple are not decidedly Scottish, the output of a successful group of Scottish musicians in London is a strongly diasporic outcome. Scottish musicians helped other Scottish musicians, forming a community outside of their musical homeland, perhaps even obscuring their heritage under the cover of Apollo himself.

​[17]​ Another diasporic community was also involved with the Society – that of Italian musicians living and working in London. One of these was Giuseppe Sammartini, whom Oswald may have first met during his time working for John Simpson, as Simpson published several of Sammartini’s works from the late 1730s to 40s (Schlager 1978: 326-8). With Oswald, Sammartini’s Six sonatas or duets for two german flutes compos’d for the Temple of Apollo was published, circa 1750 (Schlager 1978: 329). Two other Italian musicians had music published by Oswald around this time as well, though not as standalone works, but as part of Apollo’s Collection. These were twelve duets by Francesco Geminiani, and six sonatas by Giuseppe Tartini, though neither composer appears to have had any further work published by Oswald (Albrecht and Schlager 1980: 320-3; Purser 2007: 367 n. 19; Schlager 1972: 208-15).

​[18]​ Much of the Society’s outputs appear to have stemmed from two Scots – Oswald and Burney – with other composers having occasional works published under the aegis of the Society. After Burney’s departure from London, Oswald seems to have continued the pretence of the Society – perhaps because his printing licence was linked to this name (Purser and Parkes 2007: 18-9). The Society seems to have been an authorising force for new composers, providing an air of respectability to a new composer’s work. For Scottish musicians coming to London, this was a lifeline, allowing them to print their music and establish themselves in the city’s musical community. Oswald, having been aided by the Scottish diaspora when first arriving in London, now aided newcomers.

​[19]​ We now turn to our second line of enquiry – how Scottish national music was written about, and its parallels to how the Highlands were discussed. Throughout later-eighteenth century discussion around this music, two main themes arise – that this music has an ancient past, and that it is more natural than other types of music. These themes are not unique to discussions of Scottish national music however. They find remarkable parallels in how Highland society had been discussed during and after the 1745 Jacobite Rising.

​[20]​ One of the most common places at this time to find discussion of Scotland, and particularly the Highlands, was in relation to its populace’s military abilities. The reason that the Highlanders held a particular interest at this point was due to their ‘clear and recent evidence of militarism in the form of the 1745 uprising’ (Mackillop 2000: 51). Reasons for the uprising were discussed and debated even during the Jacobite Rising; themes that arose from these discussions, primarily the perception that the Highlands ran on a militaristic, and therefore feudalistic (at best), society, and the Highlander’s supposed ‘natural’ abilities at fighting, find parallels in how Scottish national music was discussed and theorised later in the century (Mackillop 2000: 6, 216).

​[21]​ A common trope in writings regarding Highland society post-’45 was that the Highlands were stuck in a feudalistic stage of development, which was actively maintained by power-hungry lairds. The anonymous writer of The Rise of the Present Unnatural Rebellion Discover’d of 1745 presented the regular Highlander as an unfortunate victim of a clanship-based system of heritable jurisdictions that allowed abuses of power by chiefs to take place. They argue that instead of condemning the rebellious Highlanders, ‘we must Pity their Misfortune, and regret that so many brave Men are Slaves to Arbitrary Power’ (Clyde 1995: 3). The agency of the Highlander, in their eyes, had been removed over generations of unthinking reliance upon their ‘despotic chiefs’. A similar view was espoused by John Duick in his polemical verse of 10 September 1745, printed in the London Courant. The Highlander had been ‘Nurtur’d in Climes where Pow’r Despotic reigns / And shackles the free Mind in slavish Chains‘ (Duick 1746, emphasis in original). Whilst he also calls them miscreants and ‘Tools of Rome’, his objections are tempered by a similar idea to that of the anonymous writer of The Rise – that the Highlands were areas that allowed for abuses of power by those in charge. Another anonymous writer shared similar views. In their post-’45 Some Remarks on the Highland Clans, and Methods proposed for Civilizing them, it is ‘the Exorbitant lawless power Exercised by the Gentry over the Commoners’ that caused the issues Highlanders now faced, who have fallen ‘prey to the Merciless tyranny and Government of their Lawless Leaders, and Oppressive Taskmasters’ (Clyde 1995: 10).

​[22]​ This anonymous writer further ‘others’ the Highlander though, by noting the need to ‘civilize’ them from their ‘Barbarous inclinations’ and ‘General Savage Character’ (Clyde 1995: 10-11). This is a common theme found in commentaries on the Highlanders, labelling them as little more than savages, harkening back to an almost pre-historic time. Lord Reay, writing after Culloden in September 1746, similarly characterised the Highlanders as a ‘wild’ and ‘barbarous’ people that required civilising ‘free of tyrannical masters’ (Clyde 1995: 13). It was due to the length of time that these people had been forced into this unbalanced relationship with their chiefs, he argued, that caused them to be so unthinking in their choices of political causes. Edmund Bruce’s The Highlands of Scotland in 1750 talks of ‘the Disaffected and Savage Highlanders… those unhappy and infatuated People will still Continue Savages if nothing else is done to recover them from their Ignorance and Barbarity’ (Clyde 1995: 15). The attempts to introduce industry to the Highlands were seen as a ‘civilising’ influence, though one report on linen manufacture dated 21 January 1763 warned that if the funding for this ceased, the Highlands ‘will soon relapse into its former Sloth & Barbarity’ (Clyde 1995: 24).

​[23]​ These views of Highland society as still being centred on ancient clanships and a feudalistic society continued through into the late eighteenth and start of the nineteenth century in some quarters. John Knox in his 1785 edition of A View of the British Empire, more especially Scotland, with some Proposals for the Improvement of that Country, the Extension of its Fisheries, and the Relief of the People still makes mention that ‘The idea of feudal aristocracy, and of feudal subordination should be utterly extinguished’ (Clyde 1995: 36). Introduction of roads and infrastructure to the Highlands was viewed as a ‘civilizing’ measure even into the 1790s, which allowed for the commoner to no longer be tied to clan and laird (Clyde 1995: 24-5). A proposal in February 1797 of a Highland corps still pulled on the notion of ‘Ancient Customs’ being of the utmost importance to the Highlander, and that the Highlander wished ‘to see the Ancient order of things restored’ (Clyde 1995: 161). John Home, writing in 1802, still portrayed the Highland lairds as taking advantage of their populace, alongside an overarching barbarity colouring the general populace. Despite the English and Lowlanders disarming after the Union of the Crowns in 1603, ‘the Highlanders continued to be the same sort of people they had been in former times’ with clanship and fighting still prevalent, and their lords keeping ‘their people upon the old establishment’ (Clyde 1995: 16). Overall, then, the Highlander was perceived as barbaric and backward in their society, one whose chiefs ‘behave[d] like feudal tyrants’ (Clyde 1995: 17). A perfect backdrop, then, to claims to Scottish national music’s supposed antiquity.

​[24]​ James Oswald himself appears to have made no claim regarding the age of the music he published. However, commentators mentioning him, and his musical colleagues in the Scottish diaspora in London, do make claims towards Scottish national music’s supposed ancient qualities. To begin with, though, we may start with a general view of the music of antiquity, as shown in The Musical Magazine of 1760, ‘By Mr. Oswald and other Celebrated Masters’. It is unclear who precisely wrote the section labelled ‘Historical Account of the Rise and progress of Musick’ – it may have been Oswald himself, or one of the other Society of the Temple of Apollo members such as Burney. Either way, Oswald had at least been exposed to such ideas as presented in the Historical Account, which progresses through pre-historical suppositions about the beginnings of music, biblical mentions of musical activity, and then onto Egyptian, Greek and Roman musical theory. During this, the Historical Account uses the lyre to comment on the likelihood of counterpoint in ancient times:

​The lyre with three of four strings was not susceptible of any symphony. … The more the number of strings increased upon the lyre, the easier was it to compose airs, with different parts upon that instrument. But whether the ancients availed themselves of this advantage: in other words, whether they understood what is now called Counterpoint, or concert in different parts, is a question which hath been warmly agitated by the partizans of the ancient and modern music, though, in truth, it seems more probable that they did not. (Oswald et al 1760: 29)

This Historical Account elsewhere similarly links ancient musical ability to a performance that is strictly monophonic (i.e. music consisting of a single line), stating in the section on biblical music ‘Nor does it appear, that they had a harmony of consorts, or many parts at the same time, which is one of the greatest improvements musick ever received’ (Oswald et al 1760: 7-8). This was a perfectly common conception of ancient music at this time and could be found in many a treatise on music’s origins such as Denis Diderot’s Encyclopédie of 1751-66; and in Burney’s General History of Music (Didier 1985: 45 and Burney 1776: 131). Jean-Jacques Rousseau was also explicit regarding this in his Dictionnaire de musique of 1768, where he also claims that ancient music had reached an ideal in expressivity that had since been degraded. Previously, in his Lettre sur la musique française of 1753, he had also claimed that ‘it is from melody alone that the particular character of a national music must be derived’ (Didier 1985: 45; Scott 1998: 292; and Verba 1989: 314-5). Following these ideas, commentators within the British Isles looked to the often similarly single-line music of Scottish national music, and began to make parallels between the music of ancient times, and the Scottish national music they were hearing.

​[25]​ One notable commentator was none other than Benjamin Franklin, who, in a letter of 2 June 1765 to Lord Kames after reading Kames’ Elements of Criticism, wrote at length on music, and specifically on the apparent ancient-ness of Scottish national music. This letter gained fame due to its inclusion in Encyclopaedia Britannica editions from 1778-83 to 1823-4 (Gelbart 2007: 114). In it, Franklin first decries the complexity of modern music, which gives little listening pleasure to those who do not understand the compositional methods used, stating that ‘Many Pieces of it [music] are mere Compositions of Tricks’ (Franklin 1765). In contrast to this, there stands ‘natural Pleasure arising from Melody or Harmony of Sounds’ (Franklin 1765). He then gives an example of the differences in reaction to complex and simpler music:

​I have sometimes at a Concert attended by a common Audience plac’d myself so as to see all their Faces, and observ’d no Signs of Pleasure in them during the Performance of much that was admir’d by the Performers themselves; while a plain old Scottish Tune, which they disdain’d and could scarcely be prevail’d on to play, gave manifest and general Delight. (Franklin 1765)​

Franklin is explicit: an ‘old Scottish Tune’ provides ‘natural pleasure’, whilst complex music that is greatly admired by skilled musicians provides little to enjoy for a general audience. He then goes on to give Scottish music an ‘ancient’ past, one that parallels Oswald et al’s understanding of how the music of antiquity functioned – specifically, monophonic. To Franklin, the reason that these Scottish tunes ‘have liv’d so long, and will probably live forever’ is that they are ‘simple Tunes sung by a single Voice’, thereby forming a union of both harmony and melody that could not be matched by more modern compositions (Franklin 1765). He uses a discussion over the need for concordance when playing a harp in ancient times to provide Scottish national music a link back to ‘the Minstrels of those days’, by noting similar stresses towards concordance and the use of a ‘natural scale’ (Franklin 1765).

​[26]​ Finally, Franklin makes his divide explicit between the complex modern European art music of the time, and Scottish national music that provides ‘natural pleasure’, including those collected by Oswald:

​Most tunes of late Composition, not having the natural Harmony united with their Melody, have recourse to the artificial Harmony of a Bass and other accompanying Parts. This Support, in my Opinion, the old Tunes do not need, and are rather confus’d than aided by it. Whoever has heard James Oswald play them on his Violoncello, will be less inclin’d to dispute this with me. I have more than once seen Tears of Pleasure in the Eyes of his Auditors; and yet I think even his Playing those Tunes would please more, if he gave them less modern Ornament. (Franklin, 1765)

In his eyes (with a certain qualification), Oswald is the best performer of this music, able to cause strong emotional reactions in his audience by his performance of such ‘natural’ music. Throughout Franklin’s discussion, it is the reaction of the audience that leads him to suppose that Scottish national music is of greater antiquity than one might suppose. This is a theme that arises throughout the 1760s and 1770s; printings of such music (like Oswald’s Caledonian Pocket Companion) would sometimes only provide the melody line, in an attempt to cut printing costs and provide portability (Oswald had often already printed these tunes elsewhere with a bass line). However, the idea that because these tunes were primarily melodic in focus (with many bass lines being simplistic and binary oppositions between root notes in each bar) seems to have fuelled the notion that Scottish national music held a claim to great antiquity, due to its similarity to how theorists viewed the music of ancient times.

​[27]​ Oswald’s erstwhile colleague in the Society of the Temple of Apollo, Charles Burney, certainly held this view in his General History of Music of 1776. His writings again provide an ‘ancient’ background to Scottish national music, but moves beyond simply a discussion of how music affects the humours, as was commonly the claim used for its antiquity, to one utilising analysis of multiple musical scales from various instruments, geographies, and eras to apparently prove the antiquity of this music. Firstly, he notes that there was a tendency in Ancient Greek music to omit notes from the scale on a regular basis, thereby breaking the diatonic progression and creating what we term pentatonic scales, whereupon he suggests that ‘this surely render it highly probable, that the cast of the old national Greek airs was much like that of the old Scots music’ (Burney 1776: 48). Burney also equates Chinese melodic methods to that of Scotland. Borrowing from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Dictionnaire de musique of 1767, Burney points out certain notes being missed out in both Scottish and Chinese scales (Burney 1776: 46). In discussing a Chinese musical instrument he had seen in Paris, Burney provides its note range and remarks that ‘no music can be composed from such a scale that will not remind us of the melody of Scotland’ (Burney 1776: 46).

​[28]​ Progressing from this, the idea of ‘natural’ music rears its head, which will be dealt with in more detail later:

​The Chinese scale, take it which way we will, is certainly very Scottish. It is not my intention to insinuate by this that the one nation had its music from the other, or that either was obliged to ancient Greece for its melody; though there is a strong resemblance in all three. The similarity, however, at least proves them all to be more natural than they at first seem to be, as well as more ancient. The Chinese are extremely tenacious of old customs, and equally enemies to innovation with the ancient Ægyptians, which favours the idea of the high antiquity of this simple music; and as there is reason to believe it very like that of the most ancient Greek melodies, it is not difficult to suppose it to be a species of music that is natural to a people of simple manners during the infancy of civilization and arts among them. (Burney 1776: 48-9, emphasis mine)

Similarly, during a later discussion over quartertones, Burney claims that ‘the old favourite Scottish melody’ subsisted at the time of Plutarch, thereby proving his earlier claim that ‘the melody of Scotland’ was ‘of a much higher antiquity than has generally been imagined (Burney 1776: 46, 52). To Burney, then, Scottish national music held a pedigree that went back to the same time period as Ancient Greece, and utilised a ‘natural’ method of expression. Such ideas are suggestive of the Ossian craze that was beginning to take hold – incidentally, Burney had met James Macpherson, the author/editor of Ossian, whom he heard sing old Erse songs and had noted them down as ‘national music’ (Lonsdale 1965: 55). This music was then printed to accompany the ‘Ossian’ article in Rees’ Cyclopaedia (1820: Plate XLV. The article itself, which noted the meeting, was published in Volume 25 of 1819).

​[29]​ Another commentator on Oswald was John Beattie, who again shares similar views as to Scottish national music’s ancient past in his 1762 An Essay on Poetry and Music, as they affect the mind. Firstly, he acknowledges the tradition that it was David Rizzio (1533-1566) who supposedly composed the first Scottish music, but says that ‘this must be a mistake. The style of the Scotch music was fixed before his time; for many of the best of these tunes are ascribed by tradition to a more remote period’ (Beattie 1779: 174). A ‘remote period’ seems to be another way of saying ‘ancient’.​[2]​

​[30]​ Beattie goes on to give Scottish music, with its primacy given towards melody, hazy origins with the shepherds of the land, and names Oswald as an imitator of this style:

Melody is so much the characteristic of the Scotch tunes, that I doubt whether even basses were set to them before the present century… though the style of the old Scotch melody has been well imitated by Mr. Oswald, and some other natives, I do not find that any foreigner has ever caught the true spirit of it. … I rather believe, that it took its rise among men who were real shepherds, and who actually felt the sentiments and affections, whereof it is so very expressive. (Beattie 1779: 174-6, also quoted in Purser 2007: 225)​

A pastoral ideal is invoked here by Beattie, one that would later find favour in ideas regarding the Highlands in general. Indeed, the idea of ‘natural’ is simmering under the surface as well – the shepherds felt emotions, and so expressed them, with the underlying assumption that they were not trained musicians in any way the eighteenth century mind would consider to be trained.

​[31]​ In general, early man’s ability to create art was acknowledged as a ‘natural’ production of humanity’s existence, though ostensibly still in a ‘primitive’ form during the barbaric stages of human development. For example, Adam Ferguson in his 1767 An Essay on the History of Civil Society claims that ‘art itself is natural to man’, yet also that militaristic ‘barbarian’ states such as Greece and Rome were ‘a people regardless of commercial arts’ (1767: 12, 184). It has been suggested that, although he is not explicitly paralleling his discussion of ancient military states to the Highlands, it was certainly intended (Youngson 1973: 14). In the 1768 edition of his Essay, the parallel becomes more explicit. Part III, Section VIII, is primarily devoted to discussing literature and its development from a savage era to Ancient Greece and Rome. He does, however, mention music:

​The artless song of the savage, the heroic legend of the bard, have sometimes a magnificent beauty, which no change of language can improve, and no refinements of the critic reform.

Ferguson then follows this with the footnote: ‘See Translations of Gallic Poetry, by James M’Pherson.’ (Ferguson 1767: 166). To Ferguson, then, the supposedly ancient Ossian text presented by McPherson had the same claim to antiquity as Ancient Greek writings, and had a natural pleasure that no further civilising could better.

​[32]​ Again, this ‘natural’ idea finds parallels in how the Highlander was described. As we have seen, the Highlander was often viewed as generally barbaric, a throw-back to an earlier stage of human civilisation. This would at least partially fit within Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s famed ‘noble savage’ that lived in a ‘natural state’ (Dent 1992: 179-80). However, Rousseau’s noble savage was peaceful, whereas the Highlanders were seen as ‘naturally gifted’ at war, whose ‘Exercise is the Sword’ as Andrew Henderson said of the Clanranalds in his The History of the Rebellion, 1745 and 1746 (Clyde 1995: 4-5). An anonymous tract of 1756 entitled Political observations, occasioned by the state of agriculture in the north of Scotland portrays the Highlander as a people separate from Lowlanders, ‘more dangerous to their Country, but they are much happier, braver, and fight better’ (1756: 9). Whilst the tract does much to lay the blame on tyrannical landlords, their descriptions of the Highlander still play on their supposedly ‘natural’ fighting ability, and the distinct, almost racial, ‘othering’ between the Highlander and Lowlander. Similarly, in another of John Duick’s polemical verses in the London Courant, this time celebrating Culloden, the Highlanders are characterised as ‘the Sons of Violence and Blood’ (Duick 1746). Again, they are portrayed as naturally inclined towards violent tendencies; they were born into such a role.

​[33]​ So while ideas surrounding the Highlander of ‘their Ignorance and Barbarity’ as Edmund Bruce put it in 1750 circulated, it was also their natural ability at war that made them so preferred for military service and therefore prominent in the minds of the time (Clyde 1995: 15). This ‘natural’ expression of violence, stemming from their supposedly ancient past, is clearly paralleled in commentaries on Scottish national music, which emphasised their ‘natural’ status. An ancient past is invoked for music, which allows for claims of its ‘natural’ expression to be made. Overall, the origins of Scottish national music were essentially unknown, but perceived to belong to antiquity, or another vague ‘ancient’ past. Such claims could only have been made if the lands that such music was linked to, i.e. the Highlands, could also claim such an ancient past. The way for such ‘othering’ of Scottish national music as belonging to an ancient past had been prepared by earlier commentators on the Highlands. With an ever-increasing ‘Highlandisation of Scots culture’, the views people held of the Highlands could easily be applied to the whole of Scotland (especially if one was not particularly aware of the differences between Highland and Lowland society) (quote from Mackillop 2000: 45). The writers post-’45, with their claims of feudalism and barbarity amongst the Highlanders, allowed for Scottish national music to be given a claim to an ancient past. After all, if the people were still barbarous, and a throw-back to a more distant past, then the music they play must surely be attributable to that same distant past. In this way, whilst Scottish national music became more integrated into the thoughts of the wider musical community of Britain and Europe, the manner in which it was treated was highly marginalising.

​[34]​ In total, Scottish national music’s performers, publishers, and theorisers provide a look into how diasporic Scottish communities formed around business interests, and how their musical expression can be both accepted into the wider community, yet simultaneously marginalised. Theorists’ focus on a Scottish national music’s supposed ancient past and natural state mimicked how the most distinctively Scottish part of society, the Highlands, was discussed. By pushing for integration into the wider British imperial community, both the Highlands and Scottish national music found themselves marginalised, and almost fetishized, as a site of Ossianic, early-Romantic ideals. Meanwhile, publishers and performers of this music did what they could to survive and support each other when finding themselves in a land other than that of their birth. The Society of the Temple of Apollo provides an account of the formation and practices, however hazy, of a Scottish diasporic business community, functioning and promoting itself in the capital of Britain. Its members, through their publications with the Society, often became highly successful. Oswald particularly stands as a testament to the resourcefulness of the Scot abroad; from beginning as the son of a town musician in Crail, to living in Knebworth House and placed as court composer to King George III, Oswald’s story is one of rags to riches, aided by the communities of Scots he encountered on his way.

​University​ of Glasgow


​[1] For more detail on Oswald’s career see: Purser 2007: 205-217, and Purser and Parkes, 2007. For publication lists, see Schlager 1976: 352-6, and Highfill, Burnim and Langhans 1987 122-4.​[back to text]​

​[2] Oswald appears to have used the name Rizzio to pass off new compositions of his own, which was commented upon by Allan Ramsay in his Epistle: ‘Or when some tender tune compose again, And cheat the town wi’ DAVID RIZO’s name?’. He was not the only composer to do this either it seems. (Ramsay 1741: 144 and Purser 2007: 207. On other composers using the name Rizzio see Farmer 1943: 252 and 124).​[back to text]​


Albrecht, Otto E. and Schlager, Karlheinz. 1980. Einzeldrucke vor 1800. Band 8: Schrijver – Uttini. Répertoire International des Sources Musicales (Bärenreiter: Kassel)

Alburger, Mary Anne. 2010. ‘Musical Scots and Scottish Music Patrons in London and Edinburgh’ in Scots in London in the Eighteenth Century, ed. Nenadic, Stana. (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press), 186-203

Anonymous. 1756. Political observations, occasioned by the state of agriculture in the north of Scotland. GB-GU Sp Coll 2670

Beattie, John. 1779, repr. 1996. An Essay on Poetry and Music, as they affect the mind. (London: Routledge/Thoemmes Press)

Bueltmann, Tanja. 2014. Clubbing Together: Ethnicity, Civility and Formal Sociability in the Scottish Diaspora to 1930 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press)

Bueltmann, Tanja; Hinson, Andrew; and Morton, Graeme. 2013. The Scottish Diaspora. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press)

Burney, Charles. 1776, repr. 1935. A General History of Music. From the Earliest ages to the present Period (1789), 2nd ed. Vol. 1. London: G. T. Foulis & Co.

Clyde, Robert. 1995. From Rebel to Hero: The Image of the Highlander, 1745-1830. (East Linton: Tuckwell Press)

Cockayne, G. E.; with Gibbs, Vicary; Doubleday, H. A.; White, Geoffrey H.; Warrand, Duncan; and de Walden, Howard (eds.). 2000. The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct or Dormant (Gloucester: Alan Sutton Publishing)

Dent, N. J. H. 1992. A Rousseau Dictionary. (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers)

Didier, Béatrice. 1985. La Musique des Lumières: Diderot – L’Encyclopédie – Rousseau. (Paris: Presses universitaires de France)

Duick, John. ‘A Memorial for Britons’, London Courant, 1746. (Cornhill: Tho. Bakewell). National Library of Scotland, Blaikie.SNPG.1.7, [accessed 14/07/2018]

Farmer, Henry George. 1943. A History of Music in Scotland. (London: Hinrichsen Edition)

Ferguson, Adam. 1767. An Essay on the History of Civil Society. ed. Oz-Salzberger, Fania. 2001. (Edinburgh. Reprint: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

Ford, Elizabeth Cary. 2016. The flute in musical life in eighteenth-century Scotland (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Glasgow)

Franklin, Benjamin. 1765. ‘From Benjamin Franklin to Lord Kames, 2 June 1765’, Founders Online, (National Historical Publications & Records Commission), [accessed 11/07/2018]

Gelbart, Matthew. 2007. The Invention of “Folk Music” and “Art Music”: Emerging Categories from Ossian to Wagner (Cambridge; Cambridge University Press)

Greene, John C. 2011. Theatre in Dublin, 1745–1820: A Calendar of Performances. (Bethlehem: Lehigh University Press)

Highfill Jr., Philip H., Burnim, Kalman A., and Langhans, Edward A. 1987. A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers & Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800. Vol 2: Naso to Pinkey. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press)

Johnson, David. 2003. Music and Society in Lowland Scotland in the Eighteenth Century. (Edinburgh: Mercat Press)

Kidson, Frank. 1910. ‘James Oswald, Dr. Burney, and ‘The Temple of Apollo’, The Musical Antiquary, 2, 34-41

Klima, Slava; Bowers, Garry; and Grant, Kerry S. (eds.). 1988. Memoirs of Dr. Charles Burney 1726-1769 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press)

Lonsdale, Roger. 1965. Dr. Charles Burney: A Literary Biography (Oxford: Clarendon Press)

Mackillop, Andrew. 2000. ‘More Fruitful than the Soil’: Army, Empire and the Scottish Highlands 1715-1815. (East Linton: Tuckwell Press)

McGuinness, David. 2018. ‘The problem with ‘traditional’’ in Understanding Scotland Musically: Folk, Tradition and Policy ed. by McKerrell, Simon and West, Gary (London: Routledge), 122-38

McKerrell, Simon and West, Gary. 2018. ‘Understanding Scotland musically’ in Understanding Scotland Musically: Folk, Tradition and Policy ed. by McKerrell, Simon and West, Gary (London: Routledge), 1-14

Nicoll, Allardyce. 1952. A History of English Drama 1660-1900. Vol III: Late Eighteenth Century Drama 1750-1800. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

Oswald, James. 1740. A Curious Collection of Scots Tunes for A Violin, Bass Viol or German Flute: With a Thorough Bass for the Harpsichord. As also a Sonata of Scots Tunes in three Parts, and Some Masons songs, with the Words, for three Voices. To which is added, A Number of the most celebrated Scots Tunes, set for a Violin or German flute. (Edinburgh), [accessed 30/08/2018]

Oswald, James et al. 1760. The Musical Magazine. By Mr Oswald, and other celebrated masters. GB-GU Sp Coll, B.a.18.

Pittock, Murray G. H. (2002-3) ‘Introduction’ in The Jacobite relics of Scotland: being the songs, airs, and legends of the adherents of the House of Stuart. Collected and illustrated by James Hogg. 2 vols (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press), xi-xxxviii

Purser, John. 2007. Scotland’s Music: A History of the Traditional and Classical Music of Scotland from Early Times to the Present Day (Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing)

Purser, John and Parkes, Nick. 2007 The Caledonian Pocket Companion by James Oswald. CD-ROM. (East Drayton: Nick Parkes)

Ramsay, Allan. 1741. ‘An Epistle to James Oswald’, The Scots Magazine, October 1741. Reprinted in: Kinghorn, Alexander M. and Law, Alexander (eds.). 1961. The Works of Allan Ramsay. Vol III. – (Poems: Miscellaneous and Uncollected) (Edinburgh: William Blackwood)

Rees, Abraham. 1820. The Cyclopædia; or, Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literature. Plates. Vol III. Hydraulics – Naval Architecture (London: Longman et al),;view=1up;seq=9 [accessed 16/08/2018]

Reid, John. 1756. Six Solos for a German Flute or Violin with a Thorough Bass for the Harpsicord (London: James Oswald).

Ribeiro, Alvaro. 1991. The Letters of Dr Charles Burney. (Oxford: Clarendon Press).

Rizzo, Betty. 1981. ‘Christopher Smart, Polemical Author of “Crambo Song on Miss Scott”’, The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 75, 65-75.

Schlager, Karlheinz. 1971. Einzeldrucke vor 1800. Band 1: Aarts – Byrd. Répertoire International des Sources Musicales (Bärenreiter: Kassel)

Schlager, Karlheinz. 1972. Einzeldrucke vor 1800. Band 3: Faa – Gyrowetz. Répertoire International des Sources Musicales (Bärenreiter: Kassel)

Schlager, Karlheinz. 1976. Einzeldrucke vor 1800. Band 6: Montalbano – Pleyel. Répertoire International des Sources Musicales (Bärenreiter: Kassel)

Schlager, Karlheinz. 1978. Einzeldrucke vor 1800. Band 7: Plowden – Schreyer. Répertoire International des Sources Musicales (Bärenreiter: Kassel)

Scott, John T. 1998. ‘The Harmony between Rousseau’s Musical Theory and His Philosophy’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 59, 2, 287-308.

Smout, T. C. 1998. A History of the Scottish People 1560-1830. Reprint, original 1969. London: Fontana Press.

Towse, C. 2004. Conway, Henry Seymour (1719–1795), army officer and politician. (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography), [accessed 29/07/2018].

Verba, Cynthia. 1989. ‘Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Radical and Traditional Views in His Dictionnaire de musique’, The Journal of Musicology, 7, 3, 308-326.

Wood, Nancy and King, Russell. 2001. ‘Media and Migration: An overview’ in Media and Migration: Constructions of mobility and difference, ed. by King, Russell and Wood, Nancy (London: Routledge), 1-22.

Youngson, A. J. 1973. After the Forty-Five: The Economic Impact on the Scottish Highlands (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press).

Next Post

Previous Post

Leave a Reply

© 2023 Journal of the Northern Renaissance

Theme by Anders Norén